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May 15, 2021

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Brandcenter Celebrates 2021 and 2020 Graduates at In-Person Commencement

The Brandcenter at VCU graduated 105 members of the Class of 2021 on Saturday, May 15, 2021—the program’s first in-person celebration since 2019.

Though the ceremony was held at Richmond's First Baptist Church like in years past, a number of changes were made to this year's commencement in order to accommodate for COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Graduates, faculty, staff, and speakers were socially distanced and wore masks throughout the ceremony. Family and friends were unable to attend in-person, but had access to view the event through a Livestream link.

Given that the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all 2020 graduates were invited back to Richmond to attend the 2021 graduation in-person.

Brandcenter Executive Director Vann Graves delivered the opening remarks at commencement, addressing the adversity that both the Class of 2020 and 2021 faced navigating graduate school during a pandemic. “Pressure builds diamonds,” said Graves, recognizing that the difficult times experienced by all students will ultimately make them stronger in their lives after graduation.

Vann Graves wearing graduation regalia standing at the front of the Baptist Church during graduation.

Three Brandcenter Director’s Council members spoke at the 2021 Commencement. Daryl Lee, Global Chief Executive Office at Mediabrands, served as Master of Ceremonies. He spoke of the importance of remaining open-minded to many different career tracks, something he felt he got wrong after his own graduation.

“Don’t choose one track; keep yourself open to as many tracks as possible,” said Lee. “The thing you uniquely have from Brandcenter is an amazing, interdisciplinary approach, and that is the future of business, that is the future of brands, that is the future of the world.”

One student from each class was chosen by their peers to speak during the ceremony. Yotam Ohayon (CW, 2020) and Chelsie Kelly (2021) both talked about the strong relationships they built during their time at the Brandcenter and excitement for what will come next.

Yotam Ohayon speaking at the 2021 graduation ceremony, wearing commencement attire.

Kristen Cavallo, CEO of The Martin Agency, introduced keynote speaker Amber Guild, President of T Brand, the custom content studio unit of The New York Times. In Guild’s speech, she shared how a recent breast cancer diagnosis forced her to recenter and remind herself of her own past, truth, and power. She discussed how a shift in the industry is leading to new opportunities, and how Brandcenter students are at the forefront of that change.

“You are entering our workforce in a time that will mark a period of monumental transformation of our creative industry,” said Guild. “You will show us what creativity can do to advance civilization.”

Amber Guild speaking to graduates at the Brandcenter commencement ceremony 2021.

Two students from each class were named Student Initiative Award Winners, recognized for their character and leadership during their two years at the Brandcenter. Shelby Bass (AD, 2020) and Jeremy Stokes (XD, 2020) were honored from the Class of 2020, while Nana Dadzie (ST, 2021) and Shannon Gill (CW, 2021) were honored from the Class of 2021.

Long-time Brandcenter professor Kelly O’Keefe was also recognized as a faculty honoree during the ceremony. O’Keefe has been with the Brandcenter since its inception, serving as a professor, chair of the Creative Brand Management concentration, managing director, and donor. Today, O’Keefe is the managing partner and CEO of Brand Federation.

Visit the Brandcenter on social media to view more photos and videos from the 2021 commencement ceremony: InstagramFacebook

Event photos and the livestream recording will be available for download following commencement weekend.