NYU Shanghai Commencement 2020: Highlights

Unpacking the unique 2020 Shanghai commencement experience.

Photo by Eric Ling, Shanghai '20

Graduation used to mean a time friends and families gather and celebrate. In the time of a global pandemic, however, no hugs, high-fives, and handshakes were allowed. In fact, every university is challenged to honor its graduates when physically isolated. For NYU Shanghai, the Class of 2020 is not only special as the fourth class that “makes MYU Shanghai complete”. Moreover, by excelling to graduate at such an unparalleled time, they’re making history.

Congratulations, NYU Shanghai Class of 2020! 

Stay at Home, Celebrate Together

The NYU Shanghai Torch

May 29, 2020. Viewers continued to log in to the NYU Shanghai 2020 virtual commencement ceremony. From 24 countries and regions, our community comes together to raise a glass for the class of 2020. 

The virtual ceremony started at 8:20 PM (20:20), Shanghai local time. The NYU Shanghai torch first took the students back their adventures around the city, from the small craft shops scattered around Tianzifang to the magnificent skyline of Shanghai. Then, it passed the Jinqiao residence halls, Qiantan new campus construction site, and finally arrived at the auditorium in the Century Avenue Academic Building. 

After a deck of portraits of graduates and faculty “processed” on the screen, the ceremony smoothed into the speeches. The rainy but delightful night concluded with the traditional Oriental Pearl Tower lighting and the NYU Shanghai Alma Mater. 

You can read about the NYU Shanghai 2020 commencement ceremony and watch the entire recorded ceremony here

Behind the Scene

A small group of Shanghai '20 students came back on campus to celebrate

Transferring a traditional celebration like graduation online requires creativity and meticulous planning. For the commencement planning committee, the hustle actually started in early spring. Even in the week before the ceremony, Chancellor Yu and Lehman led a team to Hangzhou to present Jack Ma the Medal of Honor and record his keynote speech. 

For graduates, distance did not stop the spreading of celebratory vibes. 88 Shanghai, a unique 88-day countdown tradition for Shanghai also took place online this year. During 88 Shanghai, students discussed their COVID-19 experiences and once again sang their favorite song “We Are Not Strangers” from the NYU Shanghai Reality Show. On the 88 Shanghai Website, graduates can read congratulatory messages from their fellow alumni or “fly” a virtual balloon. 

At a time when most of the world is social-distancing, a personal touch is what many people would desire. With that in mind, the commencement committee prepared and mailed 229 special gift boxes to the homes of all graduates. In this case, no matter where they are, they can all graduate in the symbolic violet caps and gowns.

The Future Is You

Jack Ma delivering keynote speech

The fact that Jack Ma is delivering the keynote speech was an absolute exhilaration. In his speech, he encouraged the class of 2020 with sheer optimism.

“At this moment in time to graduate, to look for a job, to enter society, you all may feel very unlucky. But the truth is, life is full of unexpected things. Once you have learned how to adapt, you will understand life. Once you learn how to take opportunities, you will distinguish yourself from others. ” 

He also shared his own story as a beneficiary of China-US cooperation.

“Because of this pandemic, because of this disaster, you are studying and reflecting on today’s great global changes. You are contemplating what responsibilities you will personally take, how to change yourself to adapt to the future.”

At the end of his speech, Jack Ma sent his best wishes as a call to action – “The best way to predict the future is to create it…You believe in the future, we put our trust in believing in you, believing in young people.”

You can watch Jack Ma’s full speech at the NYU Shanghai 2020 Commencement on YouTube.

Thank You, Chancellor Yu!

Chancellor Emeritus & Founding Chancellor of NYU Shanghai, Yu Lizhong

“With mixed feelings… I will ‘graduate’ together with you. I will officially retire from my post as Chancellor,” said Chancellor Yu Lizhong. This “breaking news” immediately created a sentimental moment, especially among the current students at NYU Shanghai.

 “Chancellor Yu to NYU Shanghai is like Dumbledore to Hogwarts.” This analogy from a current student speaks volumes of how Chancellor Yu was respected among the community. Not long after the commencement, the community created a webpage to honor Chancellor Yu’s contribution and stories. In addmition, students and staff held an in-person retirement party for Chancellor Yu on campus on Monday, June 1. 

As Yu takes on the Chancellor Emeritus role and pivots to his life as a happy grandpa, Professor Tong Shijun will step up as the new Chancellor to carry on the legacy. 

Oriental Pearl Tower lit up in violet, Photo by Eric Ling, Shanghai '20

Don’t forget to click here to see an entire series of content and events celebrating our Class of 2020!