Rice University graduates celebrate with virtual ceremony

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Rice University's academic quad should have been packed with proud parents and graduates on Saturday. Instead, it was virtually empty and silent.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed most commencement ceremonies online, but many colleges and universities still found a way to celebrate.

Brandon Martin is the videography manager at Rice University. For many weeks, he worked to produce three graduation specials for YouTube and Facebook that will honor all 2020 graduates.

"When you take something away, what can you do to make it a little bit better?," Martin told ABC13. "We're recording a lot of the speeches that were going to be in the ceremony. Recording them and trying to put music to it and some video to try and make it a little bit better."

Among the students featured in the video is student body president, Grace Wickerson.

Brandon started taking video of Grace during her freshman year. It's been a journey for the material science and nano-engineering major, without the expected finish.

"All these places are shut down when I was planning to enjoy my last couple of months," Wickerson said. "It's kind of become now protecting myself by staying inside. "

Grace will be headed to graduate school--somewhat insulated from the economy but still worried for classmates.

"Everything feels like survival. You're trying to find a job to keep your rent going to keep feeding yourself," Wickerson said. "And so you aren't able to think, 'Oh, my God, I finished my undergrad.' It's almost like, 'Oh, my God, how am I going to pay for my housing moving forward. How am I going to pay for my food?'"

Shree Kale is also in the video and was chosen by the class to give a speech.

"2020, we thought, was going to be a great year," he said. "It was a nice round number. And then we'd already looked at students from last year. At their graduation, it rained, and we felt bad for them. So having our entire graduation cancelled is definitely a little bit of a sore spot. "

Kale has an architecture internship lined up through Rice, but he doesn't know when or how it will start, given the pandemic.

He's trying to use this as a learning opportunity.

"There are always going to be uncertain times, and planning ahead, you never really know what's going to happen," Kale said.

Brandon Martin isn't graduating today, but it's no less important a milestone. Especially for him because he feels the weight of his responsibility, as video mannagery, for the class of 2020.

"I know they're very disappointed they can't be here in person," said Martin. "That's the reality of the world, so you just keep on keeping on and try to do something good for them, and I take it very seriously. I'm trying to do my best to give them an experience. It's never going to be the same as sitting out there with your friends. But, I want them to know that we care about them, and this is still a big deal. The class of 2020, that's an epic number when you think about, and we want this production or video to be something that they can be proud of to have forever. "
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