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Robots Help US Students Take Part in Graduation Ceremony

Robots Help US Students Take Part in Graduation Ceremony
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Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management dean Sanjeev Khagram conducts a virtual commencement ceremony using mobile telepresence robots, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. May 11, 2020

Robots Help US Students Take Part in Graduation Ceremony
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Juili Kale was looking forward to receiving her master’s degree at Arizona State University. She planned to invite her family living in India, to the United States for her graduation ceremony.

But then, in March, the coronavirus pandemic ended those plans as schools nationwide closed to stop the spread. Kale’s dream of spending time with family members on her big day came crashing down. Yet the graduation ceremony is taking place -- just not as she expected.

University officials have turned to robots so Arizona State graduates and their families can take part in the event online.

Cameras recorded images of Kale and about 140 other graduates online this month. They were wearing robes and mortar board caps. They took turns moving a robot at the university that held an eye-level display showing their face. With the help of the robot, they stepped forward to receive their diplomas and take pictures.

The robots are from Double Robotics, a company based in Burlingame, California. Before the health crisis, they had been used to help people attend funerals and even marriage ceremonies without traveling.

Sanjeev Khagram is dean of Arizona State’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. He told the Reuters news agency the video – a “bittersweet” experience – was recorded and produced over two days. It may not have been ideal for the students, Khagram admitted. But, “we want to show that we did everything that we could to celebrate them.”

Kale planned to throw a ‘watch party’ with her husband at home and her family in India.

Getting used to the online experience was easy for Nancy Sierras Morales.

“We have been able to adapt very quickly because we are used to being on a computer and on the phone almost like 24/7,” the 22-year-old said. She said that, while it is not the best, it is “cool…to be like the first class ever to do this.”

When the crisis is over, the class of 2020 can do a real-life walk at any future graduation ceremony they choose.

“I’m disappointed…,” said 41-year-old Douglas Northcott. He is graduating with a master’s degree in applied leadership and management. He called the online event with robots “creative.” But he looked forward to the real thing.

“And if anything, that makes it better, in that [it] is spread over two times rather than one.”

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Jane Ross reported this story for Reuters news agency. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

diploma – n. a document showing that a person has finished their studies at a school

pandemic – n. a disease that has spread over a wide area and affects many people

master’s degree – n. recognition given to a student usually after one or two years of study after a four-year college degree

graduation – n. a ceremony at which those completing study programs are recognized

display – n. a performance or show

mortar board cap(s) – n. a special kind of hat that is flat on the top and worn by people graduating from high school or college

dean – n. the head of a college or school

adapt v. to change to meet the requirements of a new situation or condition

24/7n. short for 24 hours day, seven days a week

disappoint – v. to fail to meet the hopes or expectations of someone