Excitement Grows for Return of In-Person Commencement for Classes of 2020 & 2021

UAlbany students celebrate around purple & gold confetti.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 4, 2021) – A mix of in-person and virtual commencement celebrations later this month will honor new graduates and their families, bringing back some long-awaited familiarity after unprecedented change over the last year.

We caught up with two new graduates, one from the Class of 2020 and one from the Class of 2021, to ask about their commencement plans and experiences at UAlbany.

Rownoka Ashakhan: 

Headshot of UAlbany student Rownoka Ashakhan

A native of Queens, Rownoka Ashakhan transferred to UAlbany as a junior in 2019 and was only on campus for one semester before the pandemic shifted classes to remote learning.

Despite the challenges, she was very involved as a student, including serving as the president of UAlbany Nasha, co-cultural chair of Albany State Indian Alliance, Student Association senator on Colonial Quad, and a student assistant for the Student Organization Resource Center.

Ashakhan has been taking classes remotely since the start of the pandemic and is excited to return to campus to celebrate her graduation.

“I was completely ready to attend a virtual ceremony, but I'm glad UAlbany has instead given us an in-person option for students graduating this year and those who were not able to celebrate in-person last year,” she said.

Jacquelyn Orchard: 

Photo of UAlbany graduate Jackie Orchard inside WAMC studio

Class of 2020 graduate Jacquelyn Orchard will be returning as well to cross the stage with her fellow graduates. Prior to attending UAlbany, Orchard, a native of Hamburg, N.Y., was an active-duty Army officer stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. She also spent a brief time working a government position in San Diego. She decided to return to New York at age 27 to complete her college degree in journalism.

As a student, Orchard served as editor-in-chief of Albany Student Press. She’s now a reporter and news producer at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, the Albany NPR affiliate.

“I quit my entire career to go back to school and become a journalist. It was a huge risk and UAlbany was there with me every step of the way, in a time of great self-doubt, telling me I could do it. That meant everything,” said Orchard.

“My first journalism assignment was to attend a UAlbany panel discussion on Hurricane Maria. I can’t remember my question, but when President Rodríguez answered he said, ‘This is why journalists like you need to follow up on stories even after they’re not new and exciting.’ He said ‘journalists like you.’ I’ll never ever forget that moment. It means something very special to me to cross the stage and have him say congratulations.” 

By the Numbers:

More than 3,050 undergraduates from the Class of 2021 are set to receive degrees, including summer, fall and winter semester recipients. Among the estimated 2,339 students completing their degrees in May, some 30 percent are first-generation college graduates and 32 are veterans. The graduates range in age from 19 to 63, with an average age of 23. Women make up 56 percent of the class. Students hail from 21 states and 18 countries. The undergraduates will receive degrees in 55 different majors.

About 1,300 students from the Class of 2021 are set to receive master’s degrees, doctoral degrees and graduate certificates, including summer, fall and winter semester recipients. This includes 779 master’s degrees, 95 doctoral degrees and 39 graduate certificates. Among the estimated 913 students finishing degree programs in May, women make up 62 percent of the class. Students are from 16 states and 23 nations. The average age of the graduates is 29, with the oldest student set to receive a doctorate degree at age 78, and the youngest student receiving a master’s degree at age 21. There are 18 veterans.

Last spring, more than 5,000 students from the Class of 2020 were honored during the virtual OneUAlbany graduation celebration. The graduates are invited back to participate in this year’s in-person events.