Your Telepresence Is Requested


COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES around the world were forced to cancel commencement ceremonies for their 2020 graduates. But Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University in Phoenix thought of a solution that would still offer graduates a memorable way to commemorate and share their achievements. Thunderbird provided its spring graduates with the option of attending a virtual commencement ceremony— and even the ability to “walk” to receive their diplomas—all courtesy of six telepresence robots manufactured by Double Robotics.

Over two days, 140 of 143 graduates participated in a pre-recorded ceremony. Dean Sanjeev Khagram spent two days recording the “walks” with students during their assigned windows of time. When it was a student’s time to cross the stage to meet the dean, a technician connected him or her to a telepresence robot, which provided live video and audio. The entire ceremony was then edited into a three-hour video, which was posted to YouTube on May 11.

At that time, some students’ families and friends used YouTube’s “watch party” function or similar online platforms so that they could engage in live video, audio, and text chats. This allowed them to experience the digital commencement together.

Under normal circumstances, the family and friends of some graduates are unable to attend the ceremony because they live too far away. One positive to come out of holding a virtual commencement, say school officials, is that it made the ceremony accessible to viewers worldwide.

“Having a virtual commencement allows Thunderbird to celebrate our students at the time they complete their studies with family and friends watching live or at their convenience. We are awed by the flexibility and resilience this year’s graduates have shown as our university community adapted to the realities of COVID-19,” says Khagram. “The virtual commencement is our way of honoring them and their accomplishments, which are all the more impressive in this challenging time.”

Videos of the virtual commencement and dean’s address to graduates are posted on Thunderbird’s YouTube channel.

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