Star-Studded, Virtual UMass Amherst Commencement Embraces the ‘Weird'

Big names ranging from Ben Affleck to Julian Edelman to Rachel Maddow offered congratulatory messages to the Class of 2020

UMass Amherst Commencement
University of Massachusetts Amherst

An in-person commencement may have been off the table this year, but the University of Massachusetts Amherst still brought plenty of fanfare to its virtual ceremony on Friday.

Actors, athletes, politicians and more helped make the day unique for the graduates and their families watching on computer screens.

A video chat-assembled wind ensemble of UMass students kicked off the virtual commencement for the Class of 2020, each playing in their respective homes. University Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy then greeted the class from his own living room, wearing his usual commencement attire.

“First of all, let me say what everybody is thinking: This is weird, like super weird,” Subbaswamy began, as various virtual backgrounds cycled behind him, from a tropical vista to bananas to an incoming asteroid field in outer space.

“Look, these are strange times, to say the least, but we are here to acknowledge you, Class of 2020, because you deserve it.”

Numerous UMass students, administrators, politicians and other well-known figures offered their congratulations to the class of 2020 in the 20-minute video, including actors Ben Affleck and Rachel Dratch, former UMass men’s basketball coach John Calipari and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

"Yes, it's weird, but it's your weird, and what's more Western Mass. than that?" Maddow said from her studio.

Some seniors at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester who wanted to join in the fight against the coronavirus have graduated two months early. The group had their virtual ceremony on Tuesday.

Several members of the Patriots gave graduates inspirational messages, including owner Robert Kraft, wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back James White and defensive back Devin McCourty.

"Go chase your dreams and be great," McCourty said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke in the video.

A still from the virtual UMass Amherst commencement ceremony, featuring actor Ben Affleck, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and many more.

"Sometimes things don't go as planned, but sometimes they turn out even better in the long run," Warren said.

To cap off the celebration, dozens of the speaking guests were combined together in a joint round of applause.

The public university closed its doors on March 16, with courses picking up online for the duration of the semester. UMass Amherst has said it is “fully committed” to resuming classes in the fall of 2020, but it could be in the form of remote learning, in-person or a combination.

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