When Eliana Harrison celebrated her graduation ceremony by watching a pre-recorded commencement video in the University of Michigan Stadium, the event hardly felt fitting.
For four years, Eliana had worked tirelessly towards her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Art & Design, all for her hard work to be commemorated by a small, televised event that her family and friends couldn’t attend. Eliana figured she had it better than the Class of 2020 before her, though, who had no commencement ceremony televised or otherwise.
When the university invited the classes of 2020 and 2021 back this spring to participate in the 2022 ceremony, Eliana jumped at the chance. Although she had already put her degree to work by stepping into her role as Junior Designer at Rizco, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t a true University of Michigan alumna. She hoped by attending an actual, in-person commencement and celebrating her years of hard work, all that would change.
Her parents, who had watched the 2021 ceremony from a nearby coffee shop the previous year, were also excited to share this monumental moment with their daughter. Last year’s commencement had been a disappointment to all, and Eliana and her family felt as if the university hadn’t put nearly enough effort into the ceremony. Hopeful for a chance at redemption, she and her family headed for Ann Arbor.
When Eliana stepped into a packed Michigan Stadium, referred to by all as “The Big House,” she realized what she had been missing. Having both friends in the 2021 and 2022 classes, Eliana considered herself lucky she was able to celebrate the experience with both groups.
This year’s commencement speaker was journalist, author, and former First Lady of California, Maria Shriver. Shriver had initially turned down the opportunity, stating she felt the graduates would be disappointed if she was their speaker. “Michigan could get anyone; why’d they pick her?” she joked.
However, Shriver eventually accepted the offer after being inspired by the courage of Ukrainian President Zelensky in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Shriver felt it was important to face fears head-on, a message she honed in on during her speech. By taking on her fears to speak at the commencement, she encouraged the graduates to do the same as they ventured on in their post-collegiate lives.
When Eliana and her fellow classmates ceremoniously moved their tassels from right to left, she felt two overwhelming emotions. The first was pride, for both herself and those who stood alongside her who had weathered the storm that the pandemic and its consequential hardships had raged. The second was the relief of closure. After a year of feeling her hard work had been forgotten, she was finally able to celebrate with her loved ones and find peace knowing that chapter of her life was now complete.
“Hail! to the victors valiant / Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes / Hail! Hail! to Michigan, / The champions of the West!”