Emma Benington ’20 was supposed to join her classmates on Tempel Green on May 17 to celebrate the most momentous day in a college student’s academic career: Commencement.
She’ll have to wait another year.
In mid-April, President Katherine Bergeron and Benington, the Class of 2020 president, broadcast a video message to the graduating class announcing that Conn’s 102nd Commencement would be held May 30, 2021, during Memorial Day weekend. A special remote event, featuring video clips submitted by the students themselves, recognized the graduates on their originally scheduled date.
Benington, who leads the student subcommittee of the Commencement Task Force, said she 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.
“On top of the many events that our class has lost, our celebrations together are among the most missed,” she said, adding that the in-person ceremony next year gives members of the class something to look forward to.
After the announcement was made, Benington emailed the entire class, asking for short video clips of seniors in order to compile the clips into a single celebratory video. Those submissions included students donning Conn apparel, smiling, waving, skipping rocks and dancing. One student, Benington said, tossed a graduation cap into the air with one hand, then caught a piece of rolled up paper—a “diploma”—in the other.
“This video provided a way to ‘see’ each other in an intimate and meaningful way, and hopefully, gave us a sense of closure before we reunite at next year’s ceremony,” said Benington, a dance and behavioral neuroscience double major from Portland, Maine.
“It felt like the perfect way to bring a glimmer of joy to this day.”
The remote celebration also included a video message from keynote speaker Patrick Awuah, founding president of Ashesi University College, Connecticut College’s partner college in Berekuso, Ghana. Awuah, a 2015 MacArthur “genius grant” winner, is a visionary leader who created Ashesi University College in 2002 with the mission of educating a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.
Awuah will address the graduates at the 2021 ceremony and receive a doctor of humane letters honoris causa, an honorary degree that reflects his revolutionary achievements in higher education in Ghana, as well as his commitment to the values that animate our mission of the liberal arts in action.
When the class does convene next year, Viridiana Villalva Salas ’20 will realize her lifelong dream of giving a speech at her own graduation.
Villalva Salas is a Posse Scholar from Chicago, Illinois, an English major, a scholar in both the Holleran Center for Community Action and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, and is pursuing her teaching certificate in secondary education. She was selected to address her classmates by members of the Commencement Student Speaker Selection Committee. In keeping with the tradition of informing student speakers of their selection from the top of Tempel Green, Dean of Students Victor Arcelus took a laptop to the green to give Villalva Salas the news over a video call.
“It felt so unreal,” Villalva Salas said. “It’s not often that people with my background are given the opportunity to go to a college as prestigious as Conn, much less speak at Commencement.”
Villalva Salas said COVID-19 is just the latest of several obstacles that the resilient Class of 2020 has had to overcome, and that she looks forward to a well-deserved celebration next year.
“We will all be coming back together after a full year of graduate school, jobs and fellowships. It won’t be like any other Commencement that has been seen on our campus.”
Check out the Celebration of the Class of 2020 here.