Her Campus Pulls Off “Epic” Virtual Graduation
“I’m Still Graduating” celebrates the class of 2020 around the world.
“The class of 2020 is the class of resilience, the class of changemakers,” said Her Campus founders Stephanie Kaplan Lewis ’10, Annie Wang ’10, and Windsor Hanger Western ’10 as they introduced their live virtual graduation last Friday for any young woman finishing high school, college, or graduate programs.
After winning the i3 Innovation Challenge in 2009, Kaplan Lewis, Wang, and Western founded Her Campus Media to create an online magazine for college women across the country. The company is now the number-one media site for college women, with more than 400 Her Campus chapters around the world. It remains 100 percent women-owned and operated, has acquired College Fashionista (an online publication “introducing college-age women to the fashion and beauty industries”) and Spoon University (an “approachable food community” to help college students build confidence in becoming an adult), and has also launched the InfluenceHer Collective, with more than 4,000 millennial and Gen Z content creators.
Unsurprising, then, that Her Campus should consider hosting an “epic” virtual graduation for the class of 2020. Reflecting on her own Harvard graduation and why she and her co-founders wanted to create “I’m Still Graduating,” Kaplan Lewis said: “The service in Memorial Hall was so powerful and so special, and very much felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event. It was also so amazing to meet my friends' families and have them get to meet mine. As we all know, unfortunately none of us is able to return to Harvard for Commencement or reunions this year (I was supposed to be having my 10-year reunion on campus this year!), and this year's seniors are finishing up their college careers at home. But our event provides a way to bring everyone together with a sense of unity and resilience, to celebrate their accomplishments and create something that feels momentous and uplifting, on a national stage.”
The celebration included speeches from new graduates across the country as well as remarks from actors, musicians, politicians, fashion icons, and business leaders including Billie Jean King, Eva Longoria, Marcia Gay Harden, and Nastia Liukin. The event ran from noon until 6:30 p.m. EDT, allowing women from many different time zones to catch at least part of the festivities. Graduates could create virtual graduation announcements during the event and post videos for their peers.
International pop star Avanti Nagral ’20 both spoke and sang. The inaugural recipient of a dual degree from Harvard and Berklee College of Music (an A.B. in psychology and global health/health policy and an M.M. from Berklee), Nagral performed the gospel-inspired “He Makes Me,” and then a pop song, “Sneaking Around,” in which she taught everyone a small dance move to pair with the chorus. She asked everyone to imagine the magic of first visiting their colleges and reflected on how going back and forth between Harvard and Berklee always allowed her to see Harvard in a new light. In the end, Nagral said, “We were there for each other. That’s what makes the class of 2020 epic!”
Incoming Harvard freshman Tarina Ahuja ’24 was one of only two high-school speakers at the event. She is the co-founder of two public-service programs: president of The Greater Good Initiative, a youth-led policy think-tank with a mission “to create sustainable, effective, and non-partisan policy solutions to the nation's most pressing issues,” and director of Young Khalsa Girls, a “group focused on serving humanity, advocacy, and girl empowerment through courage, honesty, unity, humility, and service.” Ahuja is also an aspiring politician who has interned for Senator Cory Booker, and her oratory shone. “Being confined to the digital space does not confine our power,” she told her fellow graduates, “Empathy and optimism will push us forward. Lean into the unexpected—it will make us stronger.”
Singer Brynn Elliott ’18, who also performed at the event, was the first member of her family to apply to college. She was originally wait-listed by Harvard, but applied again and was accepted the following year, submitting her music along with her application. Since graduation, she has had record deals with Atlantic Records and Big Yellow Dog Music, and toured with Alanis Morissette, Brandi Carlile, and Grace Potter. For this special event, Elliott performed her first major label single, "Time of Our Lives" —which she wrote two years ago about graduating from Harvard: “I don't believe in goodbye/ What we have's out of reach in the hands of time…I can't wait to see what we all do next/ It just gets better.”
The word that continued to resonate throughout the event was “resilience.” Ahuja said it best in her speech: “We were [the class] born when 9/11 shook the world. Now we are graduating as COVID-19 shakes the world once again. We know how to take challenges, work a little magic, and come out with something even more beautiful.”
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