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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

‘Both a closure and a homecoming’: University hosts special commencement for class of 2020

Over the weekend of May 27-30, Notre Dame will host a special commencement ceremony for graduates of the class of 2020 two years after their unexpected departure from campus in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The weekend will feature a variety of events celebrating the accomplishments of the class and their resilience during the pandemic. 

The ceremony was originally planned to take place over Memorial Day weekend last year, but ongoing concerns regarding the pandemic required another year’s delay.

Ann Firth, the University’s vice president and chief of staff to the president, expressed the University’s hope to create an experience that will allow the class to enjoy the traditional Senior Week and commencement weekend events they were unable to partake in. 

“Last spring, it wasn’t possible to gather the graduates and their families from across the country and around the world,” she said. “We are truly excited to welcome the 2020 graduates and their loved ones this year for what we hope will be a joyful and festive weekend.”

Micki Kidder, vice president of University enterprises and events, echoed this enthusiasm and noted the positive reactions from the class.

“Especially given these postponements, which we know were difficult for everyone, we are delighted that so many graduates are able to come back to campus this spring,” she said. “At this point, with several weeks to go, we have close to 2,000 graduates signed up to attend.” 

The weekend’s agenda will include special celebrations and hooding ceremonies for graduates who are earning graduate degrees, in addition to the traditional commencement mass and University commencement ceremony. 

Kidder noted that the administration has been working closely with an advisory group consisting of graduates of the class of 2020. 

Advisory group member and 2019-2020 student body president Elizabeth Boyle emphasized the “critical importance” of holding a commencement while ensuring that it would not pose a public health risk to guests and the South Bend community.

“Notre Dame commencement is really a unique experience of celebration and joy,” she said. “We are so grateful that the class of 2020 will have the chance to experience this special component of the Notre Dame education like all other classes.”

Eric Kim, another graduate participating in the advisory group, said the group's goal was to honor as many events and traditions as possible throughout the weekend.

“Although we received our diplomas in the mail two years ago, we are all excited to walk across the stage and officially celebrate the end of our college experience,” he said. 

A recreation of Senior Week will also give the class an opportunity to enjoy the events that traditionally take place at the end of senior year honoring students’ time at the University. 

“We tried to create that same feel of Senior Week but more in the form of a ‘Senior Weekend’ for our class,” Boyle said. “[We are] recognizing that we are no longer seniors at college and it's very difficult to take a week off from work, study or other things to return to campus.”

Similar to previous Senior Weeks, students will partake in their last trip to the Grotto, a class visit to the Dome steps, “Domerfest 2.0” and the Commencement Ball. 

Kim added there will also be new events including the play “Sorin: A Notre Dame Story” and screenings of the film “Hesburgh.”

Another one of the advisory group’s efforts has been ensuring that graduates will be able to stay in their residence halls again while on campus, as many left their halls behind in March 2020 for spring break and were unable to return. 

“We are trying to strike the balance of a week that is reminiscent of the original Senior Week, but also cognizant of the fact that we are now all two years older and at different points in our lives,” Boyle said. “So in that sense, we hope this extended Senior Weekend will feel both like a commencement and a reunion.” 

The commencement ceremony will feature Notre Dame alumnus and entrepreneur John Crowley as its principal speaker. Additionally, the class valedictorian Brady Stiller will offer a valedictory address, and Boyle will offer the student body president’s welcome. 

Provost Emeritus Tom Burish, who was provost when the class of 2020 completed their degrees, will serve as the master of ceremonies, while University President Fr. John Jenkins and the University’s deans will recognize and honor the many accomplishments of the class. 

Boyle described the upcoming commencement as “both a closure and a homecoming.” 

“This closure is incredibly important for our class because life seemed to be flipped upside down by the pandemic, and we couldn’t experience many milestones like commencement,” she said. “It is an opportunity not just to celebrate graduation, but to have the chance to say goodbye to friends and faculty and to officially close the door on this chapter of our Notre Dame story.”