Thunderbird grads honored with holographic speakers, outdoor celebration with video wall

To honor its Class of 2021, the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University staged a truly unique college graduation.

With students spread out all over the world during this academic year of remote and hybrid learning, Thunderbird hosted several safe outdoor hybrid celebrations (in-person plus remote) featuring an interactive Zoom video wall. The school also held a high-tech convocation ceremony featuring commencement speakers who appear as holograms (see video’s 8:40 mark). Graduates rolled across the stage as telepresence avatar robots, with the dean officiating in person, all appearing together in a digital rendering of the school’s new global headquarters, which is still under construction and will open this fall with the latest telepresence technology. 

Thunderbird's virtual video-streamed convocation ceremony went live on Monday, May 3. The graduation team used cutting-edge technology to recreate the school's traditional ceremony without losing any of its key elements. The holographic commencement speaker was T-bird for life Joaquin Duato, vice-chair of Johnson & Johnson (8:43). Outstanding graduates also gave their traditional speeches as holographic projections.

Director General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram officiated the ceremony in a chroma key studio surrounded by only lights and cameras. The digital ceremony included degree conferrals, academic awards via telepresence avatar robot (14:25) and school traditions, such as the Parade of Flags from around the world and the Thunderbird Oath of Honor. 

Graduates and their families are scattered around the world more than ever this year, yet they could watch the video stream together when the ceremony premiered or on-demand anytime afterward at their convenience.

Thunderbird also hosted four outdoor, in-person celebrations on May 4 at the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix for graduates only. Thunderbird’s hybrid in-person events safely honored groups of 2021 graduates in a bright, open-air setting and provided a Zoom livestream and 10-ft tall Zoom video wall to allow remote graduates, family and friends to join virtually with live audio and video.  

Each celebration had a maximum of 40 students attend in person (50 people total, including a photographer, the dean and several faculty and staff). Graduates who attended in person were able to take photos with their classmates and the dean, and collect their diploma cover. A drone photographer was also on hand to capture aerial images of the graduates together in person.

“We are honored to celebrate our Class of 2021 graduates’ academic accomplishments both in person and virtually,” Khagram said. “They came to Thunderbird and ASU for the transformative learning and the university experience and stayed the course to earn their degrees and graduate as professionals, no matter what obstacles they encountered. In a historically challenging time, the Class of 2021 adapted and grew with perseverance and personality. We are so proud of them and look forward to welcoming all our new alumni and their families back for a special in-person graduation celebration in the state-of-the-art Thunderbird Global Headquarters when it opens this fall as part of the school’s 75th-anniversary celebrations.”

Top image: An outstanding graduate, Anna Paula Pizzorno, gave a speech as a holographic projection after being introduced by Dean Sanjeev Khagram.

Jonathan Ward
jmward13@asu.edu