Juili Kale's dreams of receiving her master's degree in a ceremony cheered by her family were destroyed by the corona virus – until robots came to the rescue.
Kale, who studied at Arizona State University, had planned the day for months.
Her parents and brother would fly in from India, and a social media clock would count down the days until extra-national friends came to a big party in Phoenix. But in March the coronavirus pandemic ended these plans when the colleges across the country were shut down to stop the spread.
"The clock stopped at T minus 67," said Kale, 40.
But the ceremony will take place – just not as she expected. Cameras have recorded Kale and about 140 of her fellow graduates when they signed up at home this week, dressed in graduation gowns and mortar plate caps.
They alternately moved a remote-controlled robot on a podium at the university, on which a display showed their face at eye level. Via the robot, they approached the dean to receive their diplomas and take a picture.
Double Robotics' pre-pandemic robots, based in Burlingame, California, were used to enable people to show up at weddings and funerals without traveling.
The "bittersweet" experience – filmed and edited over two days – may not be ideal for the students, said Dean Sanjeev Khagram, but "we want to show that we did everything we could to celebrate it."
Kale will host a watch party with her husband at home and her family in India when the three-hour event will be aired on YouTube on Monday.
Adapting to the online experience was easy for 22-year-old Nancy Sierras Morales, who was the first in her family to graduate from college.
"We were able to adapt very quickly because we are used to being on the computer and on the phone almost around the clock," she said.
"Virtual graduation isn't ideal, but it's also very cool and iconic to be like the first class doing this."
When the lockout is over, the 2020 class can take a walk in real life at any future graduation party they choose.
"I am disappointed that I will not do it on May 11th, but I will still experience this innovative, creative event," said Douglas Northcott, 41, who holds a master's degree in applied leadership and management.
"And if anything, it does it better because it extends to two rather than one time."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)