Weekend ‘walking ceremonies’ celebrate EMU’s ’20 and ’21 graduates

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Balloons, flowers, cheers, caps and gowns, and big smiles…

Pageantry and “Pomp and Circumstance”…

Saturday’s sun-filled celebrations were a semblance of normalcy in pandemic times, as more than 1,300 guests attended three separate “walking ceremonies” hosted by Eastern Mennonite University for the graduates of 2020 and 2021.

The opportunity was particularly poignant from the 2020 grads, who lost their in-person celebration to the pandemic last year. Ninety-nine, some with family and friends in attendance, returned for the opportunity to don their caps and gowns and other academic regalia to walk across the stage.

EMU awarded 351 total degrees, including 209 undergraduate degrees, 104 master’s degrees, 37 graduate certificates, and one doctorate.

Graduates will have another opportunity to celebrate this weekend, when the formal Commencement ceremonies for both classes happen in a virtual format — on Saturday, May 8, at 1 p.m., for the class of 2020, and on Sunday, May 9,at 1 p.m., for the class of 2021. EMU’s site in Lancaster, Pa., will host a graduation ceremony Friday, May 14. [See EMU’s Commencement website for more information.]

The ceremonies were organized by academic schools, with the School of Theology, Humanities, and the Performing Arts getting the day started at 9 a.m. (blankets and coffee were favorite spectator accessories). By the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ceremonies for the School of Science, Engineering, Art and Nursing and the School of Social Science and Professions, respectively, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses were de rigueur (seating protocols and seat followed social distancing requirements).

Each ceremony included words from President Susan Schultz Huxman and the school dean, as well as a blessing from a faculty member. Huxman congratulated the gathered graduates on their resilience and perseverance and urged them to stay connected to EMU as they chart their paths and impact the world.

The smaller ceremonies allowed deans to share special messages with grads from shared academic discipline. Dean Sue Cockley of the School of Theology, Humanities and the Performing Arts offered this: This tremendous upheaval… calls up existential questions that we in the West prefer to ignore in quieter times. What is the meaning of all of this? Have we ever learned anything from history? What will happen to us? Is there hope for justice? Is there hope for faith? How can we learn to pray again. ..You may not have all the answers yet, no one expects that of you at this moment, but you are not afraid to struggle with the questions and that is crucial!”

Dean Tara Tishbaugh of the School of Science, Engineering, Art and Nursing noted that all of these graduates shared the common experience of the need for “hands-on” learning: “Labs online, labs on campus, where is lab today? Labs distanced and spread across multiple rooms, student leaders supporting the faculty as tech assistants, as learning assistants, as tutors. We learned alongside each other. Studio and digital arts moved locations, adapted to challenges of mixed modalities-I loved the story of  continuing ceramics using clay found in your backyards and beyond. The natural history (and other) solo field trips. The tremendous work achieved by our nursing faculty, staff, and students to continue clinicals, to create new simulations, to adapt to restrictions on clinical experiences.”

Dean David Brubaker shared the incalculable need for the uniquely educated graduates from the School of Social Sciences and Professions: These last 15 months have been among the most innovative I’ve experienced in my 17 years at EMU… Within our school, we launched one new master’s degree (in transformational leadership) last August, are preparing to roll out a second (in school counseling) this August, and have approved a third (in human resource leadership) for fall 2022… The  Teacher Education program sailed through its reaccreditation process with high praise from the visiting accreditation team. We consolidated a new major in global studies…and our Business and Leadership program continued to prepare outstanding graduates in fields such as accounting, business administration, recreation and sports management, and international business. I can’t imagine a time when the world needed gifted teachers, collaborative leaders, empathetic counselors and skilled conflict transformers and justice advocates more than now. You truly are the ones we have been waiting for.”