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University creates student avatars for virtual graduation ceremony

At universities around the world,...

Posted: Aug 25, 2020 1:29 PM

At universities around the world, graduation ceremonies provide an opportunity to mark an educational achievement with family and friends, but the coronavirus pandemic has robbed students of the chance to do so in the traditional way.

Embracing this new normal, one university has come up with a unique way of awarding students their degrees -- using virtual reality.

The avatars of more than 2,000 students from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay were awarded their certificates by an avatar of IIT director Subhasis Chaudhuri during a ceremony on Sunday.

The unique celebration, designed to abide by coronavirus safey measures, was broadcast on two local TV channels as well as YouTube and Facebook Live, according to a statement from the Indian government's Press Information Bureau (PIB).

"The Institute thought it best to arrange such a VR-convocation for the graduating students so as not to put their health at risk but at the same time, not deprive them of the sense of achievement and pride of passing out of India's premier engineering institute," reads the statement.

IIT is one of the most prestigious technical universities in India, known for producing Silicon Valley titans such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Students were also able "to roam around a virtual campus, visit their hostels and departments virtually, and bump into/meet their friends and faculty," said PIB.

Students also posted online about the experience.

"Honored to receive a Ph.D. degree at 58th Convocation @iitbombay. The Committee presented everyone with cool personalized avatar," wrote Deepank Verma alongside a GIF of his avatar receiving a diploma.

Duncan Haldane, joint winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics and a professor at Princeton University, US, was invited as chief guest at the ceremony.

"There is a lesson for everyone involved in research," said Haldane in the statement. "Even if you are involved in a very goal-driven project, try to find some small share of your time to investigate unexpected curiosities that sometimes show up along the way."

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about the ceremony Tuesday, calling it a "wonderful mix of tradition and technology."

Schools in the US have also been holding online graduations or drive-through celebrations, while others are postponing the ceremonies in the hope of being able to hold them in person.

One school in Pennsylvania came up with a Hollywood-themed event, turning their 141 graduating seniors into big-screen stars for the night and hosting the ceremony at a drive-in movie theater.

Students and families from Hanover Area High School watched from their cars as prerecorded speeches, photo slide shows and individual acknowledgments were projected onto the theater's screen.

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