COLUMBIA — Dennis Pruitt made sure his only official decision as acting president at the University of South Carolina would be a lasting one.
“Since I’m the temporary head of the University of South Carolina for two hours, I’m going to grant each of you a mythical degree in public health for COVID response, because together we earned that advanced degree,” the school’s vice president for student affairs said on May 15 during a recognition ceremony for the Class of 2020.
Last spring, university leaders cancelled commencement festivities because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, leaving graduates to settle for their names being scrolled across the giant TV screen at Williams-Brice Stadium. Pruitt presided over the May 15 ceremony following Caslen’s resignation.
It was a bitter end to their academic careers, and Pruitt apologized for it before heaping praise upon the them as one of the most resilient graduating classes the school has ever produced.
“You will forever be known as the ‘COVID Class of 2020.’ Please wear that designation with a sense of distinction and pride. You will be known for your grit, for your perseverance, for your devotion to completing your degree at the University of South Carolina,” he said. “You did more than try, you consciously did see things from the perspective of others and you did develop empathy, and you did it so well.”
The in-person ceremony still was tinged by COVID safety precautions. Face coverings were required for all guests, graduates shared elbow and fist bumps with officials rather than handshakes when handed degrees, socially distant seating was installed and all tickets were processed contact-free.
Luke Rankin, the 2019-20 class president, said the unprecedented experience of learning through a global pandemic will be a defining trait of their lives.
“We have felt pain, we have felt loss and confusion as our final days as students were taken from us and the world became more isolated,” he said. “Our reactions to the events in our lives are the true measure of success, grit and character.”
Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.