FGCU virtual graduation derailed by cyber attack

Cyber hackers didn’t exactly make graduation day a happy one for the FGCU Class of 2020. Because of the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the spring commencement was scheduled to be held online. But it didn’t go as planned.

A cyberattack caused a delay during Florida Gulf Coast University’s virtual commencement ceremony Sunday.

The school said Sunday morning that the site was loading slowly or not loading at all after their vendor, StageClip, “experienced a cyber attack on their servers, which took them offline or appeared to distort the graduate list.”

The ceremony was to begin at 10 a.m., and the server issue began at about 9:55 a.m., FGCU said.

“While we await the site recovery, we have posted President Martin’s commencement address at fgcu.edu/may2020grad. We encourage you to watch his inspiring words, and we’ll update you when the virtual commencement site is fully restored,” their statement read.

FGCU graduate Luisa Rodriguez envisioned a crowd full of her classmates, her friends and family cheering nearby for her graduation day. But, because of COVID-19, she was set to celebrate on her couch.

“We were all super excited and ready, and I was with my cap and my sisters’ gown from 2016 and all my stoles and everything,” Rodriguez said. “And we sat in front of the computer and were like, ‘What is going on?’”

A cyberattack caused a glitch on the host site StageClip’s server.

“My name was showing up with someone else’s picture,” FGCU graduate Carli Coppola said.

Not only did the attack cause the site to crash, it distorted the graduate list.

“I was definitely worried, and I saw a lot of comments on Facebook saying, you know, we waited all this time to be able to see our picture and graduate, but we weren’t able to,” Coppola said. “So we were upset.”

“A lot of sadness honestly to think that somebody would go ahead and ruin a day like this for students,” Rodriguez said.

“My mom, she started crying because she said, you know, you work so hard. You don’t deserve this,” Rodriguez said. “None of you guys deserve this.”

Moments later, graduates say they were able to see their clips again. It helped put an end to their frustration and became a graduation to remember.

Getting their degrees Sunday were 1,715 undergraduate students and 219 graduate-level students.

“To be able to see my face, with my video, my name, we just watched, and … we were in tears again,” Rodriguez said. “It was just like how it was meant to be the first time.”

FGCU told us the cyberattack was on StageClip’s servers. The company is working to fix the issue, and graduates will receive an e-mail Tuesday with an update.

“It was unique,” Rodriguez said. “It’s definitely something I will never forget.”

Statements from FGCU and StageClip

StageClip statement:

“It’s a great shame to have this happen in the challenging times in which we are living. Ourselves and FGCU wanted to give the best experience we could under the circumstances and our teams have been working hard to do that. It is very disheartening for all parties involved. As we know nothing can replace an in-person ceremony so to recognize graduates virtually is something we’re all striving for. We’re working to remedy this as soon as possible.”

FGCU statement:

This morning’s virtual commencement plan to honor and celebrate our spring graduates was thwarted by what our vendor partner, StageClip, informs us was a cyberattack on its servers. This caused the virtual commencement website on StageClip’s servers to be brought down or for some viewers, significantly slowed, and also caused issues with the generation of graduates’ video clips and the way photos and captions were processed.

StageClip is working to fix this issue by rebuilding the website, but they will need time. Tomorrow, graduates will be provided a progress update. When our staff receives the rebuilt website from the vendor, they’ll double-check the graduate information to verify accuracy, and graduates will be asked to do the same, so please stay alert to your email tomorrow. All of this will happen before the website is relaunched. Until then, we will continue to share President Martin’s virtual commencement address and the graduation booklet at www.fgcu.edu/may2020grad/.

Apologizing for this situation falls short in so many ways. We understand and share our graduates’ and their families’ and friends’ frustration with today’s latest setback in an unprecedented semester of challenges due to COVID-19. This morning, sitting at my home computer eagerly anticipating the start of the virtual commencement and seeing that something had gone terribly wrong felt heartbreaking for our awesome Class of 2020 students – and also for my dedicated FGCU colleagues whose weeks of planning and hard work, and, most importantly, sheer passion for finding an innovative way to celebrate our graduates and their families didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen.

Please stay tuned for updates. While today was disappointing, nothing can take away from our graduates’ tremendous accomplishment at the end of a uniquely challenging semester, nor the many Eagle hearts that honor and celebrate you!

Reporter:Brea Hollingsworth
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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