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Arizona State avatars to pick up degrees in virtual graduation


PHOENIX — There will be no in-person graduations at Arizona State University this spring due to coronavirus restrictions, but that’s not stopping some students from moving across the stage.

Graduates from ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management will send their avatars to accept their degrees in a virtual event Monday.

Doug Northcott expected a big graduation ceremony.

“Holding a 4.0 GPA, I was thinking, great, this is going to be a huge celebration,” Northcott said. “And it wasn’t going to happen.”

Ceremony or not, Juili Kale couldn’t bring her parents from India, anyway, so she got a mixed blessing.

“Now, virtually, all my friends and family across the United States and India can watch the ceremony,” Kale said.

Kale, Northcott and other graduates at the Thunderbird School of Global Management will “segue” on robots to pick up their master’s degrees.

“They look just like a Segue, but with an iPad at the top,” Northcott explained. “Two wheels side by side, and a long shaft (connected to the iPad) brings me up to about five feet.”

The graduates will move their avatars from home with a few keystrokes and say a few words through the iPads. Kale went through rehearsal last week.

“I could walk across the stage, receive my award from Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, who is our dean, converse with him, and then roll off the stage,” Kale laughed.

Dean Khagram was the only actual human in the room for rehearsal, smiling at the graduates’ faces inside their screens.

“But if we’ve brought joy and pride and happiness to any of the students and their families, it was all worth it,” Khagram said.

Khagram considers the virtual graduation an extension of the education for the graduating students.

“To train global leaders and managers for what we call the fourth industrial revolution: the rise of A.I. and the internet of things, robots, and machine learning,” he said.

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