A year and a half after an abrupt departure from the University of Richmond, the class of 2020 returned to celebrate its commencement ceremony on Sunday morning in the Robins Center.
When UR announced that classes would be held virtually for the rest of the spring 2020 semester, the class of 2020 went into meltdown mode, said Natalie Szumel, a member of the class.
“I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility that we would never have a graduation,” Szumel said, “But I am very happy that they did end up doing something for us.”
The realization that there would not be a traditional commencement celebration in 2020 devastated some students.
“For the first six months, I cried at the thought of graduation and the fact that I wasn’t having it because I loved Richmond so much,” 2020 graduate Torey-Bates Samuel said.
It made sense to hold the ceremony this semester now that approximately 95% of the UR community is fully vaccinated and UR has adapted to host larger events during a pandemic, said Ellery Jacobs, a member of the events office staff who helped plan the commencement ceremony.
UR had a number of guidelines in place to ensure a COVID-safe commencement ceremony, including an indoor masking requirement and encouraging families to sit in groups distanced from other families, Jacobs said.
The events office planned for the same number of students and guests to attend the graduation as it would for any spring graduation, Jacobs added.
The ceremony featured speeches by campus leadership, class members and faculty who imparted messages of strength, resilience and compassion for one another.
Tim Hightower, R '08, a former NFL player and philanthropist, delivered the commencement address to graduates who he told to “write, protect and perfect” their visions for the future.
Szumel said that although many had commitments to their post-graduate lives, such as jobs or graduate school, over 400 members of the class of 2020 had been able to return.
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Employers and professors tended to be lenient, acknowledging the significance of this event, she said.
Samuel, however, had a different experience. As a nursing student at East Tennessee State University, she had a lab that conflicted with the weekend’s schedule.
When she emailed her professors to ask if she could miss a lab to make it to Richmond on time, they emailed back and said “‘Oh my gosh, congratulations. You must be so proud, but you can’t miss the lab or you’ll get penalized,’” Samuel said.
But being late to the weekend would be worth it now that Samuel is able to pick up where she left off with her college friends, she said before the ceremony.
“It’s as if we’re still on spring break,” Samuel said, referring to students’ inability to return to in-person classes in March 2020.
Szumel shared a similar sentiment. At UR, students know the majority of their class, but that luxury doesn’t exist in the post-graduate world, she said.
“I’m looking forward to being in a setting where I recognize all of the faces around me,” Szumel said before returning to UR. “It’s just really comforting to be in that community.”
Members of the class of 2020 had been looking forward to the ceremonies, but were mostly excited to spend time together, Szumel added.
There were plenty of opportunities for alumni to celebrate with one another this weekend. The celebration began on Saturday, with receptions for the Robins School of Business, the Jepson School of Leadership and the School of Arts and Science, as well as a celebratory dinner for the entire class.
“I am looking forward to having closure, more than anything,” Samuel said. “Not just seeing my friends, but being able to say goodbye to them.”
Contact contributor Leah Hincks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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