Sitting in his parents’ northwest Omaha living room and watching his University of Nebraska-Lincoln commencement on a laptop and a TV wasn’t what Matthew Meacham had envisioned.
But Meacham accepted it calmly. “I would say it’s the best we can do nowadays,” he said Saturday.
Colleges and universities throughout the country struggle with how and when to hold commencement ceremonies when large gatherings are forbidden because of the coronavirus pandemic. Creighton University plans to hold a “virtual” commencement next Saturday. The University of Nebraska at Omaha held one Friday.
Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney have moved their ceremonies to summer in hopes that they can hold them in person.
Meacham watched UNL’s half-hour virtual ceremony with parents Jeanette and John, sibling and UNL senior Kai and family dog Ryder. No one complained about the cancellation of an in-person ceremony in Lincoln. The Meachams saw their small family celebration as recognition of good work and not as an excuse to party.
“Probably the most wild thing I suggested is morning mimosas,” Matthew said earlier in the week.
He wore his complete commencement outfit Saturday morning — black gown, Innocents Society sash (the society is a senior honorary group), Raikes School medal (the school is a prestigious UNL program), red stole, honor cord and mortar board hat. He graduated with high distinction from the honors program.
Meacham, who double-majored in computer science and math, wore blue jeans and a gray T-shirt beneath the gown. He went shoeless in his parents’ home.
The pre-recorded show included testimonials from former Husker football stars Eric Crouch and Ndamukong Suh, Gov. Pete Ricketts and investor Warren Buffett, past and present football coaches Tom Osborne and Scott Frost, the deans of UNL colleges and track star Angela Mercurio, international students and NU President Ted Carter.
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green offered campus history and encouragement. Husker volleyball coach John Cook gave a 10-minute speech. “The only day I saw my dad cry is the day I graduated from college,” Cook said.
Cook told the graduates that his coaching secrets include carrying an “attitude of gratitude”; understanding that the longer he coaches, the less he knows; knowing “there ain’t no free lunches”; seeing the need to surround oneself with “a team within a team”; and to “dream like a champion.”
UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said preliminary estimates indicate the livestreamed production received 6,400 plays from 67 countries. A total of 3,478 people graduated, close to last year’s UNL record of 3,490.
The Meachams sat quietly through the program. Matthew Meacham watched, upright and alert. Kai petted Ryder on the tummy. Green directed the students to move their mortar board tassels from the right side to the left.
Mom and Kai clapped. “Congratulations,” Dad said. “That beats 2½ hours.”
Matthew has a few weeks off until he starts his job with a software company in Washington, D.C.
Kai took pictures of everyone on the back deck, with lush spring greenery behind them, and then they went to the front of the house for more photos.
It was time for fruit, scrambled eggs, sausage and monkey bread. And they didn’t forget the mimosas.