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Robots To Stand In For ASU Thunderbird Grads At Virtual Commencement

Arizona State University will hold virtual commencement ceremonies next week due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some graduate students from the Thunderbird School of of Global Management will still get the experience of walking across the stage by using robots. 

The robots are using are equipped with tablets that display a picture or live video of the grads so the students the dean, Sanjeev Khagram, can see and talk to each other when Khagram hands their robot their diplomas and awards.

Khagram said his school decided to rent these robots so that its 143 graduating master's students could still have a memorable experience despite the circumstances. 

“You can say to your children and grandchildren, you know I receive my diploma as a robot," he said. "I think that’s pretty cool.” 

Student Juili Kale is graduating this semester with a master’s degree in global management. She's also receiving the Barton Kyle Yount award and will give a speech during the commencement ceremony through her robot,  

Kale practiced controlling the robot from her laptop last week from the comfortable of her Phoenix home while wearing her black cap and gown. She said controlling the robot was similar to playing a video game. 

"It was very surreal," she said. "It felt like I was in the room talking to (the) dean, receiving my award, just that we were missing the audience.” 

Kale said the virtual commencement, even with the robots, doesn't completely replace the excitement you would feel in person, but it's a pretty good compromise. 

ASU students graduating this semester can also participate in an in-person ceremony at a later date. 

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Rocio Hernandez is a senior field correspondent who was raised in the Las Vegas valley. She temporarily left the desert to work as the first bilingual reporter at KUER in Salt Lake City, Utah. There she covered immigration and education stories. Prior to KUER, Hernandez worked at the Associated Press’s office in Phoenix and has also interned for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Reno Public Radio (KUNR) and the East Bay Times. Hernandez fell in love with audio storytelling after participating in an NPR's “Next Gen Radio” training as a student at the University of Nevada, Reno.In her spare time, Hernandez enjoys cuddling with her two poodles, sipping margaritas and spending time with her husband.