RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — VCU’s recent graduates gathered at the Siegel Center in Richmond on Saturday morning to celebrate a milestone: the first in-person commencement since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The keynote speaker was Camille Schrier, the winner of the Miss America Pageant in 2020 – and currently a student at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

She was crowned Miss America in 2020, and used the platform to advocate for women in STEM. When the pandemic lead to the cancellation of 2021’s pageant, she was asked to serve another year.

“Each of you now possess a breadth and depth of wisdom and resilience which will serve to greatly enhance the degree you are about to receive,” Schrier told the graduates. “Your noteworthy academic accomplishments that we celebrate today are more fully illuminated by the character of your resilience.”

Students gathered in the Siegel Center to celebrate the first in-person commencement since the pandemic began. (Photos: Timothy Corley/WRIC)

Gideon Boateng was one of those students, and he said he was glad they had a chance to celebrate their achievements in person, masks and all.

“Words can’t describe it. It’s been a long, long four years,” Boateng said. “COVID definitely made it a little bit longer – but I can’t complain about where I’m at today.”

VCU President Michael Rao also addressed the graduates, praising them for their perseverance through difficult circumstances.

“You are modeling what it means to be caring, compassionate and loving people,” Rao said. “You should know that you’ve also shifted VCU in ways that have catalyzed change and will help us meet students and patients where they are.”

As for post-grad plans, Boateng said he hasn’t decided yet, but he added “We made it, so I’m really excited for what comes next.”