Homecoming provides memorable backdrop for Class of 2020

The Class of 2020 was honored with a special commencement ceremony on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
By Jenny Hudak

The Class of 2020 was honored with a special commencement ceremony on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Homecoming provides memorable backdrop for Class of 2020

By Jenny Hudak
In the first commencement exercise held in the Watsco Center since December 2019, the Class of 2020 enjoyed their long-awaited in-person graduation during a special ceremony.

They all remember the last time they donned those fuzzy, yellow feet. Peter Caride suited up for a basketball game, and Will LaRossa appeared at a University event. Ishmael Ortiz recorded a video for an orientation program. Little did they know, it would be their last time appearing as Sebastian the Ibis—until last Friday.

"While it wasn't exactly a traditional Sebastian identity reveal, having the opportunity to be up on that stage, alongside Pete and Ish, and finally have this moment was unbelievable," said LaRossa, who now oversees the mascot program as an associate director in the Hurricanes Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. "I was a little nervous about doing the ’Canes spell-out for the first time in so long, but I guess it's like riding a bike," he added.

“Being on that stage was electric,” Ortiz declared.

Separated during their senior year by the pandemic that drove the spring 2020 semester to go virtual nearly 600 days ago, emotions flooded the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Friday afternoon as nearly 300 members of the class of 2020 reunited to celebrate their long-awaited in-person commencement ceremony.

President Julio Frenk welcomed the alumni back to campus during Homecoming and Alumni Weekend for a special commencement ceremony, acknowledging the hardships this graduating class faced during the past 20 months.  

The original graduation ceremony in May 2020 was initially postponed. Then, the ritual in December 2020 was made virtual because of a rise in COVID-19 cases across South Florida. Frenk expressed his gratitude for the group’s perseverance, patience, and partnership through the pandemic. The ceremony marked the first commencement exercise in the Watsco Center since December 2019. Those in attendance received a unique medallion in recognition of their strength and resilience.

“[The medallion] bears the ibis, a symbol of resilience, and I hope it will always remind you that what underlies resilience is hope—hope for the future, hope for the better, hope that we are capable of facing, overcoming, and growing from anything that lies ahead,” Frenk told the graduates.

Jaret L. Davis, a double alumnus and co-managing shareholder of the Miami office of Greenberg Traurig, who also spoke to the graduates during their virtual ceremony in December 2020, addressed them in person and reminded them that despite the challenges they have faced since their degrees were conferred, their resilience shines through their adversity. 

"If more adversity leads to more greatness, I dare say none on this stage will begrudge you the prediction that you are the greatest class the University of Miami has produced," he said. "Your class showed amazing levels of empathy and a burning desire to affect meaningful change in our society. I would contend this simply accelerates a destiny you already had before you."

Davis is no stranger to adversity, he noted. He started as a freshman at the University in 1992, shortly after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. The experience of rebuilding a city and community, he said, drove him and his classmates to develop an incredible sense of belonging and purpose during their time as students.

Emily Gossett, the student speaker who served as the undergraduate Student Government president for the 2019-2020 academic year, acknowledged the unique opportunity for the former students to reunite during this year's Homecoming and Alumni Weekend. Gossett now works as a sales manager for Meltwater, an international media monitoring and intelligence company.

“In some ways, being on campus once again feels especially nostalgic because for everyone sitting here today, we didn’t get the chance to have closure,” she said. “We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.” Gossett reflected on how, one year after being a student, her time at the University paved the path for her success in the workplace.

Many graduates in the crowd have since left South Florida and were visiting only to participate in the special ceremony. Dana Franco returned to Miami this weekend from Detroit, Michigan, where she works as assistant manager of e-commerce at the Lip Bar. Franco spent the weekend catching up with her former classmates, finally closing the door on her collegiate career.

“I loved hearing what everyone has been up to since graduation,” Franco said. “It was great to be in Miami with my friends and finally get closure on our college experience.”