By Lara Becker
In a time of grave uncertainty, academia knows one thing for sure: the College’s class of 2020 deserves a celebration. Pomp, circumstance and champagne were all in order for these historic graduates –– even if it had to be through a screen.
The College’s official YouTube page launched a commencement livestream on Thursday, May 21. Students grabbed their caps, gowns and computers to tune in at noon to make the most of the momentous occasion.
As with many events in recent months, the ceremony was a collaboration of several prerecorded video clips, all cut together to create one seamless broadcast.
Featuring words from both faculty and students, it was clear that every person involved did their best to provide a semblance of a real-life experience for students and their families — College President Kathryn Foster even had a podium in her own home to prove it.
“This atypical graduation reflects determination, grace, grit, and ingenuity; characteristics I should say not only of the many that worked on this production, but of the strong, brave, and persevering class of 2020,” Foster said.
The sixteenth president of the College said she first wanted to establish the obvious: that this is not normal. Computer screens cannot replace the beauty of Green Hall Lawn on a spring day.
“Rather, we will toast the moment in our own way,” she said. “Perhaps with three cheers from family, a virtual high-five from distant relatives, and a big slice of graduation cake.”
Through the hard work of deans, class cabinet members, student leaders and others, a virtual experience was created in the spirit of togetherness from afar.
“Now, I will not suggest that the necessary adjustments to our graduation this year make for a better ceremony than a traditional one, but I will assert that this commencement will be, and already is, extraordinary,” Foster said.
Alongside the scheduled program of speeches and presentations, the College’s talent was showcased through Chorale, Wind Ensemble and Concert band, who kicked off the day with their performances.
The Chorale sang heartfelt renditions of “Baba Yetu” and Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” As the Wind Ensemble and Concert Band played a peaceful “Pomp and Circumstance,” in the background, processionals began in order to commend students in each school at the College.
These processionals took place in the form of photos of students in their caps and gowns –– taken in living rooms, in gardens of flowers and beside swimming pools. Side-by-side on screen, the graduates were connected in morale.
Senior Class President Justin Lewbel rallied this school spirit by speaking words of inspiration to his peers.
“The next time adversity stares us in the face, we’re going to tell it to get out of the way, because we have work to do,” said the history and secondary education major, paraphrasing words from John F. Kennedy.
As a culmination of their academic studies, students were sent into the world by the professors and deans of the schools that taught them for four years both in and out of the classroom.
History professor Michael Marino was selected by the senior class as the faculty speaker for the commencement festivities. The professor said he wished to shed light on the year’s historical context — one that will undoubtedly be known for its struggle and heartbreak.
“If there is one characteristic that defines American history, it is crisis,” Marino said. “From the Great Depression, to the World Wars, to the inflation of the 1970s, to the political instability of the 2000’s, crises recur again and again. Remember that ours is nonetheless a great country, and you are the best among us. I know that you will lead the way forward just as other generations have done in the past.”
In place of a proper senior sendoff, Foster referenced a possible reunion for the class at homecoming next year, with an even bigger commemoration, and tentative dates of Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 for in-person graduation convocations.
As far as their legacy on campus, the senior class of 2020 leaves behind their class flag and solar-powered tables with charging stations outside of the Brower Student Center, to continue to provide a “sustainable, conscious environment,” according to President Foster.
But as the College president motioned for graduates to move their tassels from right to left, the class of 2020 left behind much, much more. To many, they will be a symbol of the heart of the College community, standing together in the hardest of times.
“From teachers, to computer scientists, to artists, to engineers, this is TCNJ,” said Lewbel. “The world is waiting for us, and it’s about time we get to show it what we’re capable of.”