Oberlin Marks 2020 Commencement Weekend with Virtual Celebrations

May 21, 2020
Amanda Nagy
Two people hugging.
Graduates hug following the 2019 Commencement ceremony. Photo credit: Amber Benford

Oberlin will present virtual Commencement celebrations to recognize the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 24 and Monday, May 25.

A Commencement planning committee worked quickly beginning in mid-March to change the course of the ceremony due to COVID-19 and the social distancing rules enacted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The planning committee was led by staff and involved student input. 

The commencement experience includes a Crimson and Gold Convocation, in which President Carmen Twillie Ambar will give a state-of-the-college address, “The Certainty of Oberlin.” The prerecorded event will be posted at oberlin.edu/commencement at 10:30 a.m. EDT on May 24.

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will host its traditional Baccalaureate Ceremony virtually at 1 p.m. EDT on May 24. ‘‘On Parting Again: Saying Goodbye During the Coronavirus Pandemic,’’ features a student panel representing different faith traditions. Panelists include Nathan Carpenter (nonreligious), Noa Gordon-Guterman (Jewish), Kenneth Kitahata (Buddhist), Madeleine Gefke (Christian), and Lyala Khan (Pluralist). Rising-senior Ivy Miller will facilitate. President Ambar will offer a welcome, and music will be performed by violinist Riley Calcagno, who performs both classical and roots music. The event can be viewed at oberlin.edu/commencement.

To mark Commencement on May 25, the college will honor its 648 graduates with a virtual celebration featuring President Ambar and Board of Trustees Chair Chris Canavan '84. The prerecorded event will be posted at oberlin.edu/commencement at 10 a.m. EDT.

Time capsule for grads

Planning committee member Troy Stephenson ’20, a viola performance major, says that inclusion and accessibility was important to students. They engaged with a platform called Capsule as a way for seniors to upload videos and share their reflections and experiences.

“I really enjoy how although this is virtual, it still feels personal. It isn’t simply a slideshow presentation of the graduating class, but a warm message from each student,” Stephenson says. “To me, that feels as if we each get to take part in giving a final message to Oberlin, and more specifically, the Class of 2020.”  

Nathan Carpenter '20, comparative American studies and environmental studies double major, says the committee's goals were broadly to envision a way to celebrate this moment and all that the Class of 2020 has achieved, while simultaneously recognizing that they couldn't fully replicate Commencement Weekend online.

"We needed to think of ways to connect a little bit differently, and that is what we have tried to achieve through initiatives like the Capsule videos and the more small-scale Zoom events that have been scheduled throughout the week," Carpenter says. "I think what makes Oberlin distinct—and certainly what made my Oberlin experience special—are the students. The Class of 2020 has been such an incredible group of peers for the last four years, and the opportunity to celebrate them means a lot." 

The precursor to Commencement is Senior Week. Athletics, the Multicultural Resource Center, and academic departments hosted virtual celebrations and sendoffs for graduates. A year-end show focused on the work of studio art graduates can be viewed in this virtual exhibit. Seniors were also invited to take part in “Spirit Week” through their personal social media accounts. 

From Oberlin with Love

In the weeks leading up to Commencement, Oberlin staff hand-packed and mailed out gift boxes to all graduates. The boxes were personalized for each grad and packed with their cap, gown, tassels, Oberlin Alumni Association swag, a letter from President Ambar, handwritten notes from faculty, notes and postcards from academic departments, and gifts from advisors. The idea came out of the Commencement/Reunion Weekend Planning Committee in mid-March.  

“We tried our best to send home to students what they would have received if they were still on campus,” says Associate Director of Donor Relations Emily Speerbrecher. “We simply put the idea out to faculty for handwritten notes, and they responded. The whole experience was a heartwarming reminder of how much love faculty and staff have for Oberlin students.” 

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