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11 May 2020

Online Graduation: Becoming Alumni in Lockdown

1,013 neo-Alumni graduated in the April session, in the midst of the lockdown. From home, often alone with their parents watching remotely and traditional photos that will go down in history: no statue of Ferdinando in the background, but selfies with the fridge. Their emotions? Different, but no less rewarding. Chiara and Giuseppe share their stories.

Some in the garden, some in the kitchen; others in a makeshift study created at home and yet others comfortable on the sofa. The luckiest, with parents and siblings at home; many of them in their childhood homes, if they are lucky with a sea view, and many others from Milan with their roommates. But all with one common and essential element: always looking nice regardless.

Because graduation day only happens once and, even though they couldn’t go to the hairdresser, to become “Masters” you need a tie, a little bit of makeup and even a laurel crown that many of them bought for the most important day in their lives as students.

Online graduation has been an example of Bocconi’s great collective effort, with everything being organized rapidly and efficiently. More than 1,000 students took part online and – despite their happiness for having achieved such an important goal – it is undeniable that the long-awaited “campus” atmosphere was missing, irremediably lost. 

No friends in the classroom, no traditional on-campus photos, no gathering in Piazza Sraffa to celebrate with a song. There will be a party though, Bocconi has assured them.  Naturally, when one can be organized.

And, indeed, our Alumni always manage to make the best of any situation, as the neo-Alumni Chiara Terrasi Borghesan and Giuseppe Sarno tell us.


So how do you graduate online?
All graduating students received a communication about preparing presentations for their thesis defenses in advance, along with instructions for logging on to the session, which was held on Microsoft Teams. Everything is coordinated by the session coordinator: checking the identity of the graduating students and making sure they are all present. 

There is also a "virtual room” session on Teams, a separate room where the members of the Degree Assessment Board can meet alone to assess the graduating student. The President records the grade within the system and then everybody returns to the plenary room with the student for the proclamation.

However, always looking on the bright side, unlike in-person sessions, all online graduation sessions have been recorded and will be made available to the Alumni and their families. This is a special memento that only the graduates from this time will have, that they can rewatch whenever they want.


Chiara: “Graduating in the living room? Much less stressful!”
“It was a strange graduation, but at the same time emotional.
I had been waiting to hear the sentence I proclaim you Master of Arts in Law all my life and it was as exciting as it would have been if I had been there,” says Chiara Terrasi Borghesan, who discussed a thesis entitled “Arbitration in China: Internal and international.”As the former Vice President On-Campus of the Bocconi Alumni Community, she just handed over the baton to Enrico Marchini.

“There were five of us at my graduation session, all discussing theses with Professor Cavallini and Professor Gaboardi. Cavallini, President of the Degree Board, called each candidate, introduced him or her, proclaimed them and went onto the next candidate,” says Chiara. “I was the last on the list and I must say that my anxiety started wearing off during the wait: in the end being in the living room of my small two-room apartment in Milan undoubtedly helped and made everything easier, for a pathological worrier like me.”

Defending your thesis in front of a monitor…
“While I was speaking, everything around me disappeared and I was alone with Professor Cavallini: my attention was focused on the screen alone, so I didn’t even realize what the other people online were doing. I only saw him, whereas if I had been in the classroom, I would have looked at the whole Degree Board: I’d say that online I felt less ‘surrounded’ and I think I looked more relaxed,” continues Chiara.

The official handshake.
“I must admit I missed it. Along with congratulatory hugs when leaving the defense. However, I got lots of smiles that made everything wonderful. My boyfriend was at home with me, so I felt less alone. Regarding everything else, I believe Mamma Bocconi’s promise: that everything is just postponed and I’ll eventually receive my long-awaited handshake and lots of hugs,” she concludes. Chiara was participating in an internship at an Italian eyeglasses manufacturer that will start up again in May.


Giuseppe, alone in his kitchen.
Giuseppe Sarno is another Alumnus who will go down in history.
Unlike Chiara, he graduated alone in his kitchen, with a thesis entitled “The Development Strategies of F.C. Juventus: From rebirth to entertainment company,” with his family watching remotely from the province of  Avellino.

“For years I had been dreaming of the dozens of friends and family who would be there for me in the classroom in the Velodromo building. Instead, I was completely alone in my Milan apartment,” he says with a hint of disappointment.

A different graduation, but no less intense, with an advisor experiencing technical issues with his home internet connection.

“The legendary Professor Cattaneo, who being ‘differently young’ had a few problems logging on with Microsoft Teams. This worked in our favor as his slight problem eased our anxiety. We are actually grateful to him because that half-hour technological delay made the questions slightly quicker and less painful, because, in the meantime, we had regained our composure,” continues Giuseppe.

“Also, I was in a friendly environment: my kitchen. Which was also the only place with a white wall behind me. And my family was with me anyway, online, and even though I could see my little brother making faces, I managed to keep a deadpan expression. Looking at the glass half-full, I wouldn’t have seen that in the examination room… he would have been behind me! Anyway I dressed up, with a jacket and tie, although my hair was a bit messy… I couldn’t get a haircut,” he continues.

Feeling the stone walls at Via Roentgen…

“‘Giuseppe Sarno; under the powers conferred on me by the Rector, I proclaim you Master of Science in Management:’ when I heard those words, I had a rush of adrenalin. A moment of pure happiness, when I realized the importance of the journey, more than the goal, and what Bocconi has meant to me.

“I felt the stone walls at Via Roentgen, the tracks next to the lion statutes, the nights in the bunker and library study rooms, that one fragment at a time made me a better man and student, more than anything else. After all, the best moments of life are those that, when put together, pave a way.”

This is what makes up the sense of the community for this neo-Alumnus, whose initial melancholy and solitude have been replaced by the warmth of the hundreds of people he has met along the way, the challenges taken on and won, the joy of the inner journey and growth: being part of the Bocconi Alumni Community is also all of this. And it is even more so in these unexpected and complex moments.

A graduation!
However, as a proud new graduate, Giuseppe refused to go without a graduation party. Rigorously online, with a toast, surprises and speeches via Zoom.

In a surge of optimism in keeping with his youth, Giuseppe is thinking positive and demonstrates the enthusiasm that is representative of the community: “I’d like to say to all the other 1,000 neo-Alumni like me that the in-person graduation ceremony has just been postponed… and to tell the truth, we are lucky: we will celebrate this important goal twice, with a warm embrace this time from Mamma Bocconi!” Giuseppe, who works in strategic consultancy, dreams of going to New York and becoming a great leader, capable of improving people’s lives and then returning to Italy to give back to his community.