Graduates from this year's Washington Ireland Program have completed an entirely different year to previous programs, never setting foot in the American capital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Washington Ireland Program normally offers opportunities to emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds all across the island of Ireland and, in previous years, graduates have been able to undertake work placements in Washington D.C. and New York City in influential offices such as Congress, major media companies, and law firms. 

However, the class of 2020 was unable to travel to the United States due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, forcing the 30 students to complete the program remotely. 

The students, all based in Northern Ireland, were unable to attend Capitol Hill but did get the chance to meet with leading industry figures through Zoom calls and other methods of virtual communication. 

Students faced difficulties establishing working relationships remotely but still managed to complete the program successfully and all 30 students are set to graduate in the coming months. 

Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, US Consul General in Northern Ireland, praised the hard work and commitment of the participants in this year's program, claiming that they got the best out of the program in unprecedented times.

"The students displayed a great deal of determination in refusing to let the virus affect the course of their personal and professional growth. Their efforts reflect Northern Irish young people and their keen desire to progress, grow and better their futures," Kennedy Trudeau said. 

"The Washington Ireland Program is a fantastic opportunity for young people across Northern Ireland and Ireland to gain professional experience and be part of a global network of leaders. Over the last 20 years, we have seen its graduates go on to become the next generation of artists, entrepreneurs and political leaders shaping the future."

Bryan Patten, Executive Director of the Washington Ireland Program, said that this year's program simply couldn't have gone ahead without the positive attitude of the class of 2020. 

"We had a total of 30 students taking part this year and each of them are a credit to themselves and the Program."

The Washington Ireland Program began in 1995 and has been supporters young leaders from the island of Ireland ever since. 

Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and former Northern Ireland Justice Minister Claire Sugden are two of the most famous alumni to take advantage of the program.