2020 and 2021 graduates celebrate a long-awaited day

Pacific graduates walking past school and college banners

Graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 wait to be hooded at this year's Commencement.

Proud graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 got their chance to walk across the stage in front of parents, partners, family and friends during a special commencement ceremony Sunday as part of Pacific Roars Back weekend.

While Pacific held virtual commencements the past two years due to the pandemic, the chance to do it in person was an important moment for the students and the university.

More than 6,000 people gathered on Knoles Lawn to celebrate with 650 graduates. The crowd stretched from Burns Tower to Knoles Hall in an idyllic setting for an historic event.

“We are so proud of all of these graduates,” President Christopher Callahan said. “They have had to endure so much, but they have remained steadfast in their education and loyalty to their university.”

Each of the graduates added a chapter to their Pacific experience, and some of them were very unique. Consider the euphoria of the Canniff family and its deep ties with the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Michael Canniff has been a lecturer in the school since 2003. Canniff and his wife Mary had three family members miss out on commencement ceremonies because of the pandemic—daughter Keely ’20, ’21, son Galen ’21 and son-in-law Sean Figel ’21.

All three returned and had the unique opportunity to be hooded by Michael Canniff.

“I love that Pacific is doing this to give everyone who missed out a chance to take part in commencement. It was difficult for all of them to miss their ceremonies, but these memories will be special,” he said.

Keely Canniff, who is working on her doctoral degree at Benerd College, is digital projects manager in the university’s William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center.

“The way it all worked out for our family is exciting and special,” she said. “When I was really young, 8 or 10 years old, my dad was teaching here at Pacific and one day he brought me to work. We went up into Burns Tower and I looked down at the people walking around and told him ‘I want to be like that someday.’ He looked at me and said ‘you will.’ And now, on the very lawn that I looked down upon, he is the one to hood me.”

McGeorge School of Law graduate Ashley Hope Arroyo carried her 1-year-old daughter Luna across the stage.

Arroyo went into labor with Luna while taking a final examination. She admitted that she “felt like quitting” law school at times during her final semester, but the thought of “making Luna proud of me” kept her going.

“I just really hoped that one day she would know that I kept going and finished my degree,” Arroyo said. “This is why I wanted to walk across the stage with her. I felt like we got through this journey together and Luna kept me focused.”

The ceremony included two important addresses, from Order of Pacific recipient and stalwart university supporter Tony Chan ’77 (read his full speech) and former ASuop President Randi Holguin ’21, whose guidance and leadership helped students during a difficult year when campuses were mostly shuttered.

Retired dean of the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy Phillip Oppenheimer, the university’s second longest serving dean, and retired professor of music Keith Hatschek, joined Chan in public recognition of their Order of Pacific awards.

Established in 1952, Order of Pacific recognizes faculty, staff and special contributors who have provided distinguished service and made outstanding contributions to the university over a significant number of years. It is an expression of the university's esteem and appreciation for their steadfast dedication to Pacific.

Pacific leadership expressed deep gratitude for the perseverance of students during the pandemic.

“I think it’s just so incredible, and really I’m in awe of our students who graduated under such adverse circumstances,” Board of Regents Chair and double alumnus Norman Allen ’88, ’94 said. “They stuck with it and got their degree, which is incredible. Then to be able to celebrate that in person with thousands of others here on Knoles Lawn in the beautiful setting, it’s just a great way to congratulate them for all of their hard work.”

View Pacific Roars Back Commencement Highlights.