UCT honours graduates on virtual stage

17 December 2020 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Lerato Maduna. Read time 6 min.
During a virtual graduation celebratory event, UCT graduates were encouraged to go forth and find solutions to Africa’s “wicked problems”.
During a virtual graduation celebratory event, UCT graduates were encouraged to go forth and find solutions to Africa’s “wicked problems”.

It was a summer graduation celebration with a difference for the University of Cape Town (UCT) community on Tuesday, 15 December 2020.

The steps below the Sarah Baartman Hall on upper campus were deserted and the hall was under lock and key. A far cry from UCT’s traditional graduation ceremonies – roaring laughter, congratulatory hugs, the best fashion and loads of photos taken of graduands, their loved ones and the academics who contributed to their success.

Instead, the December cohort were glued to their computers to participate in a virtual graduation celebratory event – the first of its kind for the university since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event followed UCT’s first virtual graduation celebration held on Monday, 14 December, in honour of the March cohort, who graduated in absentia earlier this year.

In keeping with tradition, the pre-recorded celebration included performances by the marimba band and a praise poet. The Cape Town Youth Choir performed the national anthem. In a rare occurrence, the deans from all UCT’s faculties offered their students special congratulatory messages.

The university also conferred a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) upon Professor James Midgley. Professor Midgley is a UCT alumnus who has produced an expansive and substantive body of work on social development that is not only relevant to the Global South, but also to international social development.

A time of celebration

UCT’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said that 1 500 graduates completed their academic programmes this December. This included more than 200 doctoral degrees – 23 in the Faculty of Commerce, 23 in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, 62 in the Faculty of Health Sciences, 35 in the Faculty of Humanities, 13 in the Faculty of Law and 45 in the Faculty of Science.


“Each accomplishment that we acknowledge today is notable.”

“Each accomplishment that we acknowledge today is notable. Not only because of the hard work, energy, discipline and passion you each brought to your work, but also because of the effect your education will have on your personal future, the future of South Africa and the world,” Professor Phakeng said.

She told graduands to go forth and be part of the solutions to what researchers refer to as the “wicked problems of Africa”, including poverty and inequality, sexual and gender-based violence and climate change.

“These are not just African problems, they are universal problems experienced by countries around the world, and their solutions will involve contributions from all around the world,” she said.

“Historically, the world is not in the habit of looking to Africa for solutions to global problems. I believe that pattern is changing, and you will help to make that happen.”

Growing through challenges

Phakeng said that many would describe 2020 as a year of frustration and disappointment, and that the natural human response to the past year is to hope for things to quickly return to normal. But she has a “different hope” for UCT’s new graduates and thought leaders.

Instead of getting back to normal, she urged graduands to use their experiences during 2020 to help take the country and the continent to a completely new level.

“What is the normal for much of Africa [today]? Poverty, inequality, lack of jobs, lack of hope – none of us want that kind of normal. I challenge each of you to look around in your communities and to start thinking of what the new normal should be. I challenge you to have courage to experiment, to think differently and to act on those ideas,” she said.

Further, she also encouraged graduands to be adaptable and to grow through change and adversity. After all, she added, once the COVID-19 pandemic passes, a myriad of other challenges await their creative and innovative problem-solving skills.

“I am confident each of you will contribute to changing the world for the better.”

A ‘profound’ moment

During her address Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, who officiated her first graduation ceremony as UCT’s chancellor, told graduands that the virtual celebration was not organised to “dampen your spirit or undermine your academic achievement”.

“This remains a profound moment, and we are here to celebrate the years of dedicated hard work, sacrifice and discipline that each of you have shown in order to reach this high point in your journey,” Dr Moloi-Motsepe said.

As graduands prepare to enter a world marred by instability, Moloi-Motsepe said that the university will also help to steer “necessary change” through the work graduates will embark on after their graduation. She encouraged them to adopt the values of Midgley, who she described as a pioneer in international social work and social policy in the developing world.

“These values of courage, compassion, creativity, curiosity, collaboration and optimism are what we hope every UCT graduate will embody throughout life,” she said.

‘Leverage your knowledge’

Moloi-Motsepe said that even though everyone has different definitions of what it means to get to the top, the 2020 cohort is part of the generation that will rebuild what has been “shaken loose” in society by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said that facing society’s complex challenges, such as climate change, unemployment and gender-based violence, is necessary in order to effect change in the country and the world.


“You have an opportunity to leverage your knowledge and the Fourth Industrial Revolution to solve these challenges and to ensure that no one gets left behind.”

“You have an opportunity to leverage your knowledge and the Fourth Industrial Revolution to solve these challenges and to ensure that no one gets left behind. This is both a privilege and a responsibility,” she said.

“I encourage you to grasp every opportunity to learn more about yourselves and your world, to explore ways that can make a difference and to connect with others with similar ideals.

“Congratulations! The future is yours to build.”

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Graduation 2020


We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the impact that the global pandemic has had on the normal operations for graduation ceremonies. Please know that the decision to host virtual graduation celebratory events was not taken lightly. We congratulate the March and December 2020 graduates on their academic success during an exceptionally challenging year.

The March 2020 Senate List of Qualifiers was approved at the beginning of March and everyone on that list had technically already graduated in absentia with a confer date of 19 March 2020. The celebratory event video was made available online at 18:00 on Monday, 14 December to honour the March 2020 graduates.

The December 2020 graduands have graduated during the virtual graduation celebratory event at 18:00 on Tuesday, 15 December 2020.

Find full information, including Frequently Asked Questions, on the Graduation page on the Students website. You can also follow the celebrations on UCT’s Twitter page and the #UCTGrad2020 hashtag.

Videos – 15 December virtual graduation celebratory event

Your names

The names of all of the 2020 graduates and graduands can be found in the ceremony programme PDFs. The names of all of the March 2020 graduates are accessible in the March programme PDFs that you can find through the index: just click through the March index to find your graduation ceremony group PDF. The names of all of the December 2020 graduands are accessible in the one December ceremony programme PDF.

Your photos

Graduates and graduands were invited to submit photos for publication as part of the 2020 celebrations. If you submitted a photo, you will find it in the gallery collections, divided into the March and December cohorts.

Our stories: inspirational graduates

The UCT News team has profiled a cross-section of inspirational graduands and graduates whose stories inspired us. To all those we haven’t been able to feature, we’d like to say: each one of you is an inspiration – to your university, your families and your communities. We wish you every success in the future.




Graduates’ Video messages