By Tyler Kirker
If there’s one thing every college student looks forward to once they step onto college campuses their freshman year, it’s their new journey’s end: the trip down the aisle to shake the hand of your university’s president and earn your degree. Last year, however, the unexpected arrival of COVID-19 threw a wrench in that plan for students at Malone — and everywhere.
On March 13, 2020, Malone was forced to prematurely close campus doors for the rest of the semester in response to the rapidly spreading outbreak of COVID-19. This meant that the graduating seniors were forced to miss out on an in-person graduation ceremony. This year, Malone has made it their mission to avoid this happening again as well as giving last year’s graduates a chance to walk down the aisle.
After the state-wide lockdown last spring, Malone was able to reopen campus for the 2020-2021 school year by enforcing strict health and safety protocols. This included wearing masks, standing six feet apart from one another, and limiting attendance in individual rooms.
“I think I’m definitely going to look back on COVID and think it was a big thing [in my college career,] because I never expected to live through a pandemic in my lifetime,” Emily Giguere, senior psychology major, said.
Despite its obvious challenges, students have persevered during the trying times of the pandemic and continued to pursue their degrees full-speed-ahead.
“Since COVID’s been going on for a while now, I would say I’ve mostly gotten used to it,” Giguere said. “I’d say [the challenge] has mostly been from homework and everything else that comes with school.”
Malone has had only 36 students test positive for COVID in the spring 2021 semester, all of which have now recovered. As students and faculty receive vaccines, Malone has been able to gradually reinstate some of the students’ original privileges, including holding an in-person graduation ceremony for the class of 2021.
The class of 2020 had to simply end their college careers by having their diplomas mailed to them. Malone wants to allow the students who graduated last year to experience walking down the aisle garbed in a cap and gown despite the year’s delay. In light of this, Malone has decided to invite the graduating class of 2020 to return for this year’s graduation ceremony.
“Commencement’s always important, of course, for the graduating class,” Dr. James Brownlee, associate provost and professor of English, said. “We knew that — especially given last year — an in-person event would mean the most to the students.
“We’re going to have [the class of 2020] walk first, recognize and congratulate [them], and then we’ll move on to the class of 2021,” Brownlee said. “They’ll be part of the same ceremony, but it will highlight them.”
Several students from the class of 2020 are planning to return to Malone for the graduation ceremony this year to give their college journey the conclusion they wanted.
“Walking [the graduation aisle] is a big part of the college experience, as it provides a good sense of closure for the years of work put into getting a degree, as well as the fact that my family was really looking forward to it,” said Micah Goff, ‘20 alumnus, said. “Without walking [to get my degree], it was a weird transition from being in school to suddenly not.”
The alumni from 2020 are grateful to Malone for allowing them to return for their ceremonial walk, and can’t wait to do so.
“[This ceremony] was a good solution to offer, as they really didn’t have another option [at the time],” Goff said. “They tried to postpone it to later in the year but I feel like at that point people just didn’t want to come back since things were still rather crazy, even into August.”
The graduation ceremony for the classes of ‘20 and ‘21 will be held at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Five guests per graduate will be permitted to attend, and social distancing practices will be encouraged while seating.
Congratulations to the graduating classes of ‘20 and ‘21! We wish you the best of luck in taking your next steps toward putting Christ’s Kingdom First!