Flying for as many as 20 hours, graduates from NYU Abu Dhabi's Class of 2020 and 2021 travelled from around the world to attend a commencement ceremony at New York City's Yankee Stadium.
“We decided to invite our classes, our NYU Abu Dhabi classes, back because we are one New York University,” said vice chancellor Mariet Westerman.
“And it just seemed so incredible to be able to be with thousands of graduates.”
NYUAD graduation ceremonies traditionally take place on the Saadiyat campus in the UAE, but they have been held online for the past two years because of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, graduates had to watch the live-streamed commencement from home without experiencing the pomp and circumstance of a ceremony, wearing caps and gowns and surrounded by proud family members.
The postponed commencement ceremony, held right after the earlier Class of 2022 event, gave alumni the chance to celebrate their university in achievements.
NYUAD students come to the UAE from around the globe and commencement is often the first time their parents come to visit.
So, when the pandemic caused the ceremonies and all travel to be cancelled, many felt the loss of being able to share a slice of their university life with their families.
“They wanted to much to see me graduating,” said Michal Andrzejewski, Class of 2020, who flew in from Italy.
“And I remember — I would even say a pain, that was to skip that opportunity that they were awaiting at least for four years of my education.”
But many students simply came by themselves to reunite with former classmates.
Those who already lived in New York City hosted those who flew in from across the US, as well as Japan, Italy, the UAE and elsewhere.
Almost 100 of the alumni-graduates sat in the lower levels of the stadium, surrounded by graduates from other NYU schools, while guests watched from the upper levels.
The alumni commencement speaker was Judith Heumann, a disability activist who led the effort to create the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
In her speech, she — like many of the students and faculty speakers — acknowledged that the advice and inspiration usually given to graduates did not apply.
“I'm already kind of out there in the world,” said Andres Lopez Schrader, Class of 2021, who flew in from Louisiana.
“So, this is a time for us to celebrate something that we know is an achievement from the past, but we weren't given the proper space and time to commemorate that.”