After abruptly leaving campus and pivoting to online classes in March 2020, the Class of 2020 faced the disappointment of a canceled commencement ceremony. The COVID-19 pandemic created uncertainty about when to reschedule the ceremony, and the first attempt in August was postponed. Because case numbers remained low throughout the academic year, BJU was able to reschedule the 2020 commencement ceremony for May 8, and the Class of 2020 finally walked across the platform.
But they didn’t receive diplomas. Because students’ diplomas were mailed when degrees were conferred, students received a special gift designed for the class. One side of the display box frames four coins engraved with symbols representing “Learn. Love. Lead.” The reverse of the box explains the symbols with a special message to the Class of 2020 praising their perseverance through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You graduated last year at the beginning of a pandemic,” said BJU President Steve Pettit in his address to the Class of 2020. “What you learned in college didn’t really help you prepare for the pandemic. But what did prepare you? It’s the knowledge of Christ. … That’s what real life is all about — it is the development of the character of Jesus Christ, which is the mission of this school, in your life as you suffer. So these are the enduring qualities that I think in many ways form the greatest value in our life.”
In lieu of testimonies, the name of each graduate was called as they crossed the platform to accept their gift. In addition, class representatives Max Burak and Caroline Smith Seiber spoke on behalf of the Class of 2020 and announced the class gift of a mural in the School of Health Professions wing of the Mack Building.
To the Class of 2020, the ceremony provided closure. Said engineering graduate Tim Arcuri, “It was just a closure of what I came down here for. I came to get a degree, a Christian education. That was kind of put on hold at the very end there. Even though I had the diploma at home, the significance wasn’t necessarily associated with it. I needed that ceremony and that whole process in order to have the closure and the significance of this. I wouldn’t necessarily want to hate on the seriousness of COVID-19, but it kind of felt victorious today. No, we’re not going to give ourselves over to fear. We’re going to finish the job we started.”
To engineering graduate Caroline Smith Seiber, participating in the ceremony felt “more conclusive.” She said, “The end of last year, I finished my last quiz on a couch. It didn’t feel conclusive, but like, ‘I guess I’m done. Sure. I watched a video of Dr. Pettit.’ But this felt like we’ve just kind of been waiting for it, and it’s kind of the last point like, ‘OK, I actually finished. I’m actually done with college.’”
The class as a whole is grateful that the administration would put on a full commencement ceremony a year later. Said cinema production graduate Chantel Dewar: “The fact that the school, a year later, still put on a whole, a real graduation for us was really cool.”