Arizonans Deliver Virtual Graduation Speeches to Celebrate Class of 2020

by Mike Hunter

The pomp got lost due to the circumstance – aka Covid-19. This reality means thousands of Arizona graduates are missing their walk across the stage, the diploma hand off, the launch of their mortarboard, and the friends and family celebrations that follow the ceremonies. Life milestones, important memories, the inevitable selfie – all lost to the pandemic.

Yet to make sure not all was lost, one Arizona resident reached out to a variety of people to write and record their own inspiring messages to make certain the graduates feel seen and celebrated as they mark the important moment in their lives. More than 40 individuals answered the call. The Virtual Graduation Project: Speeches to Inspire Arizona’s Future Leaders includes messages for eighth graders, high school graduates, and college and university students moving on to the next chapters in their lives.

“The community has rallied through these difficult times. So many Arizonans have stepped up to support their neighbors, families and front-line workers. It shouldn’t be any different for our amazing graduates,” says Rhonda Bannard, creator of the Virtual Graduation Project and a proud graduate of Arizona public schools and a state university. “I have fond memories of my graduations here in Phoenix and Tucson so I thought it would be a nice gift to offer up great stories, wisdom and inspiration from fellow Arizonans to our 2020 graduates.”

The speeches are delivered by individuals or an ensemble, and are diverse in their themes – building on accomplishments, navigating personal journeys, pivoting when facing a challenge, service to community, facing uncertainty, redefining oneself, and resiliency. A group of teachers share life lessons they learned from their students. A researcher focuses on what has been proven to work for a successful life. A business executive shares her fairytale journey of a partnership born out of a childhood friendship that grew into a successful brownie company. Mayors and mayors-elect hone in on leadership and navigating the management of communities.

These messages are combined with wisdom from 2020 grads, moms, dads, historians, principals, and the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman. “At such a pivotal time in a young person’s life, the Class of 2020 is having to alter their traditional plans to celebrate graduation. While these celebrations may not look exactly as our seniors have envisioned them for so long, the reason to celebrate remains. Every member of the Class of 2020 has studied hard, accomplished more than they thought possible, and left a lasting impact on their school community. I am proud to be a part of the Virtual Graduation Project to honor the Class of 2020.”

The messages can be found at

This marks the official release of the speeches for public use. The Arizona Department of Education has already been sharing the graduation messages for use by teachers, as well as principals and superintendents who can choose a few messages to share with their communities through their own communication channels.

A sampling of presenters includes:

  • Arizona Youth Climate Coalition
  • Karina Bland, mother and journalist
  • Barry Chasse, Arizona business owner, dad of 2020 graduate
  • Rabbi Mari Chernow, Temple Chai
  • Lupita Hightower, Tolleson Elementary Superintendent
  • Rick McCartney, President & CEO at InMedia Company, dad of 2020 graduate
  • Kristi Lee & Jade Quinn, mom and daughter
  • Corey Woods, Mayor-elect, city of Tempe

Click here for the full list of participants.

This Virtual Graduation Speech project was made possible by Inspired Connections through its Gather on Purpose initiative. The producing team includes: Rhonda Bannard, graduate of Royal Palm Elementary School, Sunnyslope High School and the University of Arizona; Louann Phillips, graduate of Tolleson Elementary and Tolleson Union High School and Arizona State University; and Heath Bannard, graduate of Madison Meadows, Sunnyslope High School and working towards his degree as a Film and Television student at the University of Arizona.

Special thanks to community supporters: Arizona Department of Education, Cox Communications, Shelly Hornback and Quinton Jenkins-Agnew.

We believe that embracing our inter-connectedness is what makes the world work best. Through our connections, or gathering on purpose, we can build thriving communities and shape a future that more fully embraces our humanity. Gather on Purpose is an initiative of Inspired Connections focused on supporting businesses, organizations and initiatives seeking to build cultures of community and meaningful connection.

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