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Miami’s graduation to include avatars, virtual environment built by alumni

Miami University is planning virtual commencement ceremonies this weekend for the class of 2020. CONTRIBUTED/MIAMI UNIVERSITY
Miami University is planning virtual commencement ceremonies this weekend for the class of 2020. CONTRIBUTED/MIAMI UNIVERSITY

Miami University will honor its spring 2020 graduates with a virtual commencement this weekend to include each student.

The virtual commencement exercises will be on Saturday and Sunday and will feature Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Miami alumnus, as the featured speaker. DeWine was scheduled to speak for the postponed May ceremony. Miami plans to give out 4,356 degrees during the virtual ceremonies.

By using a computer, mobile device or VR headset, graduates and university faculty and staff can choose to join the ceremony that will feature a virtual world with avatars and interaction. Graduates can join other graduates and faculty and staff in one-to-one interactions within their virtual world, while family and friends can view the festivities via video livestream.

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“Though we are unable to be together in person right now, we can be together virtually on this day that we all hold so dear,” said President Gregory Crawford. “It’s special to all of us – the culmination of hard work, dedication, perseverance and achievement – so we wanted to create an innovative and meaningful celebration of our graduates, especially at this time in our world.”

Graduates, families, faculty, staff, alumni and friends can tune in to any scheduled ceremony through the website miamioh.edu/commencement or Facebook Live. Miami/student highlight reels, ceremony speeches featuring Crawford, DeWine, deans of Miami’s colleges/schools, and other invited guests will engage the audience. To close the event, the Miami Men’s Glee Club will perform the Alma Mater as is tradition, and rapid-fire, congratulatory remarks from notable Miami alumni and special guests will fill the screen.

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Miami Class of 2015 alumnus Austin Mace and his team at Subvrsive, an immersive innovation studio, developed this experience as an exclusive to Miami. Mace’s Emmy-nominated company specializes in virtual reality events.

“The Miami way is solution-oriented, innovative, entrepreneurial,” Mace said. “We wanted to capture that for this celebration.”

Miami’s Glenn Platt initially reached out to Mace, a former student, with an idea to produce something unique, which is what the virtual attendees will experience.

For each ceremony, participants choose an avatar and enter the virtual space.

“We chose to create ‘The Hub’ of Miami’s Oxford campus – it’s the heart and soul of central campus that includes the university seal, the Upham Hall arches and more — representative of beloved Miami traditions,” Mace said.

The University of Cincinnati postponed its spring 2020 commencement ceremonies, though all graduates were still certified as having earned their respective diplomas, according to university spokeswoman M.B. Reilly. She said no future date for a ceremony has yet been set.

Xavier University postponed its commencement ceremonies to Aug. 8 at the Cintas Center. However the Class of 2020 will be graduated officially on Saturday, according to Doug Ruschman, Xavier spokesman. He said the university will hold online senior week events each day this week that will be capped off Saturday by an address by Father Michael Graham, the university’s president.