IU graduate Brian Funk spent a week building furniture, creating decorations and designing the layout of the virtual island for a commencement ceremony in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" to replace the celebration his friends couldn’t have.
About 15 people attended the ceremony Tuesday. The game only allows eight people on an island, so some livestreamed the event on the group messaging app Discord.
“It started out as a silly thing,” said Funk, who graduated from IU in December. “It's making the most out of a bad situation for a lot of people.”
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is a portable game on the Nintendo Switch console, according to the Nintendo website. It’s a life simulation video game, where players have avatars to interact with their personal island, planting flowers, fishing and inviting game-created characters to live with them.
Funk worked at University Information Technology Services in the Technology Consulting Center until he graduated in December. He and his coworkers became close, and he started playing Animal Crossing with many of them during quarantine. So when he heard they wouldn’t get a traditional commencement ceremony honoring their years of work, he decided to do something about it.
“With everything being online, your semester’s just over,” Funk said. “There's no moment where it's like ‘I'm now done.’ I wanted to provide that moment of ‘you've accomplished something, congrats, you've worked hard.’”
During the ceremony, he shared his screen to show a video from the UITS Technology Consulting Center administrators. The bosses gave congratulations to the soon-to-be graduates and expressed excitement to where they would be headed. IU senior Jackson Hawk said it was a special part of the ceremony for him.
“It was a surprise to see how much work he actually put into it,” he said. “There were virtual caps and gowns, we did a walk through a garden and sat down at folding chairs.”
IU senior Bailey Bowles said it was a way to say goodbye that he didn’t have, since graduation was canceled. He said he was a bit relieved he didn’t have to attend an actual ceremony because this felt more intimate.
“I really appreciate the idea and thought it was really cool,” he said. “I was very touched by it.”