GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – East Carolina University celebrated the accomplishments of more than 5,000 graduates with its 111th spring commencement on Friday, delivering a virtual ceremony because of the coronavirus.

Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson acknowledged the unusual circumstances during the online commencement that included conferment of degrees for 3,860 undergraduates.

The Class of 2020 also includes 1,201 recipients of master’s and doctoral degrees.

“I know there is no substitute for a commencement celebration in person on our beautiful campus,” Mitchelson said. “We recognize that this ceremony is just another example of how COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives. Despite these unusual and challenging times, this is still one of the most important moments in your lives, it is still an important moment in the life of this university, and it is still a great day to be a Pirate.”

Colin Johnson, ECU student body president, said the class of 2020 endured challenges, such as hurricanes and the coronavirus.

“You go to show that Pirates have grit,” he said. “It’s what gives us this chip on our shoulder that tells us that nothing can stand in our way.”

He acknowledged the support of family, friends, and faculty and said it is up to each graduate to live out ECU’s motto of service — to serve.

“Serve your family to secure continued prosperity, serve your communities to provide others with the same opportunities that have been provided to you, and always serve the mission of this great university,” he said.

Educational leader Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, the president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, delivered the keynote address, also stressing ECU’s tradition of service.

“Regardless of your major at East Carolina University, I believe all of you can be of service to all of us at this time,” she said.

She acknowledged the fear and questions that many may have during these times but quoting writer Julia Cameron, said love can overcome that fear.

“Let’s use our deep capacity for love — alongside fortitude, resilience, and intelligence — to be part of the solution right now,” Gangone said. “Let us not be afraid to tackle the smallest or the biggest problems and challenges that lie ahead. … One of my fears right now is that what’s happening to the world will further divide us, and so I ask you, dear graduates, to think about how to counteract that fear and to use this time to unite us, to unite us to each other, to unite us to our local communities and to unite us throughout the world.”

Vern Davenport, chair of the ECU Board of Trustees, said the graduates were ready for the next steps in their lives because of what they’ve overcome and the skills they’ve developed through their academic careers.

“Through it all, you’ve shown resilience and you’ve shown toughness,” he said. “Never doubt for a second that you’re well educated and prepared for this world.”

The ceremony concluded with the ECU Chamber Singers providing a virtual rendition of the ECU alma mater and Mitchelson telling the graduates, “We will not let this virus steal your thunder,” and imploring them to “go out and make your mark.”