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Connecticut College celebrated the 427 members of Class of 2020 with a special live event on Sunday, May 17, the day the seniors were originally scheduled to participate in their in-person Commencement. The College’s 102nd Commencement is now scheduled for Sunday, May 30, 2021.
The live event featured remarks by President Katherine Bergeron, Class of 2020 President Emma Benington and special guests, along with videos featuring clips and memories sent in by the seniors themselves, and congratulatory messages from faculty and staff, as well as other surprises.
“Class of 2020, you are a historic class,” Bergeron told the seniors. “You were the class that launched Connections. You rose to the challenge of this new program, and ended up defining it for the future.”
Bergeron praised the class for their graceful handling of the exceptional spring semester and for putting the liberal arts into action by working as first responders, completing ambitious theses and projects, winning competitive fellowships, and mounting virtual concerts and exhibitions.
“You showed yourselves to be the creative, adaptive, and compassionate leaders that we always knew you would become,” she said. “Thank you for bringing your grace, your talent, your intellect, your conviction, and your boundless, positive energy to this very special College. I know you will go far in your lives beyond Conn. I wish you courage and joy in scaling the heights that await you.”
Benington, who is leading a student subcommittee of the 2020 Commencement Task Force, said her classmates felt that it was important to recognize May 17 as a day of celebration for the class, but also to make sure it didn’t replace the in-person Commencement.
She helped solicit clips and memories from hundreds of members of the class to include in a commemorative video, which features students smiling, waving, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing, painting, juggling basketballs, kicking soccer balls, blowing bubbles, skiing, surfing, sailing, cartwheeling, flipping, jumping into swimming pools, and playing with pets. Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20, who will serve as the student speaker at the in-person Commencement next year, provides the narration, sharing written memories of favorite moments sent in by the seniors.
“This video gave us a way to ‘see’ each other in an intimate and meaningful way,” said Benington, a dance and behavioral neuroscience double major from Portland, Maine. “We are the first class to ever be memorialized in this way, and I really hope that it is a start of a new tradition. I see this as a sign of our togetherness even while apart, and it will be such a wonderful keepsake until we are able to reunite next spring.”
Patrick Awuah, founding president of Ashesi University, Connecticut College’s partner college in Berekuso, Ghana, will serve as the keynote speaker for the Class at their official Commencement in 2021. As part of the live celebration, Awuah shared a poem, “Trough,” by Judy Brown.
“Class of 2020, the whole world is in a trough,” Awuah said. “But if we rest here, if we take the time to notice the shape of things, conserve our energy, we will rise again together to another crest, and see land; see horizon; and see where we need to swim.”
Awuah advised the students to enjoy the people around them, explore, and read something they might not have otherwise. “Prepare yourself for the crest that will surely come. And I’ll see you next year, at your Commencement in 2021,” he said.
The live celebration concluded with an updated version of the College’s beloved alma mater, which was originally written 100 years ago, in the spring of 1920. As a special gift to the Class of 2020, Bergeron and her husband, Butch Rovan, put together the R&B Alma Mater, which Bergeron wrote. The remote collaborative performance features student musicians Jack Pacilio ’20, guitar; Dexter Willett ’20, bass; and Naveen Gooneratne ’21, drums; along with student vocalists Matt Allen ’20, Margaret Davey ’20, Ashley Dillon ’20, Oliver Holmes ’20, Jade Hui ’20, Scott Leff ’20, Emma Niiler ’20, Claudia Slifka ’20, Sarah Stephen ’20, Grace Teixeira Li ’20, Anil Timbil ’20 and Marcus Vinicius Pinto Pereira Junior ’20. Other soloists include Bergeron on voice and piano, Director of the Hale Center for Career Development Persephone Hall on voice, and Rovan on tenor sax.
Bergeron invited the seniors to sing and dance along to what she called “a musical tribute to an exceptional class, a tribute that showcases the talent and creativity that Connecticut College is known for.”
In conjunction with the celebration, the College awarded the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for most outstanding honors thesis to Madeline Washburn Bank ’20, a dance and art history major and scholar in the in the Museum Studies Certificate program, for her honors thesis, “The Female Body, Myth, and Sexual Power: Women in Italian Renaissance Art.” The trans-historical, genre-defying thesis reconsiders the 15th- and 16th-century Renaissance artworks in the context of Renaissance women’s histories and critiques the ways in which these objects have been dehistoricized by cultural institutions in the present so as not to address the sexual violence against women inherent in them.
The College awarded the Anna Lord Strauss Medal for outstanding public or community service, including service to the College, to Christina Cruz, a sociology and Latin American studies double major and scholar in the College’s Holleran Center for Community Action. A leader, scholar and changemaker, Cruz was honored for her deep commitment to educational access and social justice for Latinx students and lower income communities in the United States.
The members of the Class of 2020 were also invited to celebrate their accomplishments on social media with custom social media filters, stickers and Facebook frames; with Camel pride lawn signs provided by the College; and with photo galleries featuring memories from their Arrival Day in 2016 and throughout their four years at Conn.
Degrees for the members of the class will be officially conferred by the Board of Trustees on May 29, 2020. Prior to Sunday’s live celebration, special remote ceremonies or congratulatory messages were shared with senior scholars in the College’s centers for interdisciplinary scholarship, the newly inducted members of Phi Beta Kappa, student athletes and Posse scholars, among others.
Also in honor of the class, a linden tree has been planted overlooking Tempel Green. Positioned west of Blaustein Humanities Center, the prominent shade tree will flourish in the place where the class will come together again for their Commencement in May 2021.
“As we continue to grow in our lives beyond campus, know that our tree will be growing along with us,” said Shyanne Temple ’20, who was elected to represent the class as the young alumni trustee.
When the graduates do convene next year, Villalva Salas, a Posse scholar from Chicago, Illinois, will realize her lifelong dream of giving a speech at her own graduation. An English major and a scholar in both the Holleran Center for Community Action and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program who is also pursuing her teaching certificate in secondary education, Villalva Salas was selected to address her classmates by members of the Commencement Student Speaker Selection Committee.
“We will all be coming back together after a full year of graduate school, jobs and fellowships,” Villalva Salas said. “It won't be like any other commencement that our campus has seen.”