Vermont’s Middlebury College held a commencement ceremony Tuesday, to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2020 — which was denied its originally-expected commencement because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is a graduation that is also a homecoming," Middlebury College President Laurie Patton observed in addressing the class of 2020 at a ceremony outdoors on the campus’s quad Tuesday. "We cannot send you off into the world because you’re already in it."
Middlebury welcomed back 525 alums from 2020 as well as midyear graduates, according to Patton, which college spokespeople said was a very strong showing for the small school.
Those alums never got the college graduation ceremony they had hoped for, because the pandemic prevented big gatherings.
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"We expected hardship, we expected obstacles," class speaker Mollie Smith told her fellow 2020 graduates, referring to their preparations for hard work in college. "But we did not expect to miss out on so many lasts, nor to be known as ‘that class’ — the one that missed their senior spring."
Smith urged her peers to see themselves not as the class that lost out on so much fun at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but as the group that accomplished so much while on campus. The speaker pointed to how students successfully advocated for the launch of a new interdisciplinary Black Studies program at Middlebury as one example of that.
Graduates from the class of 2020 NECN & NBC10 Boston spoke to were glad for a custom sendoff — not simply an online one or an event shared with other classes
"It was really, really special," said 2020 Middlebury graduate Grace Vedock. "I’m so glad that I came back."
"I feel very grateful that we were able to have this," added Chellsa Ferdinand, another member of the class of 2020. "And I definitely feel like I have some closure now, saying goodbye to the place."
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"It was very sentimental coming back here," graduate Robert Cheng said. "I didn’t expect it to feel like it was completing my experience here, but it definitely was a good way to close my book on Middlebury."
The class of 2020 had a unique class gift. It wasn’t a tree or a bench — or anything ever seen before on campus. Rather, it was a fund that helped classmates in the early days of the pandemic travel home when they were forced to leave the campus.
That fund, which collected more than $130,000 in donations, also helped students cover the costs of buying home equipment for remote learning, speakers said.
Graduates and their families and friends heard from a trailblazing athlete during the ceremony.
Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete to play in the NBA, served as the commencement speaker for the class of 2020, and also received an honorary degree from Middlebury.
Following his address to the graduates, NECN & NBC10 Boston asked Collins for his take on the upcoming NBA Finals — which will feature one of his former teams, the Boston Celtics, taking on the Golden State Warriors.
Collins predicted the matchup will feature excellent defensive strategy from both teams.
The former player, who now works for the NBA as a community ambassador, said Celtics fans should not worry too much that the Warriors will be better rested — from having clinched their division title earlier.
"It’s a double-edged sword, in that yes, you want to have that rest, but you also want to have that rhythm," Collins said. "I think actually the Celtics — they’ve definitely had the tougher road — but I think that has sharpened them and I think they will be ready come game one."
Collins said he is excited to watch a longtime friend, the Celtics’ Al Horford, get to play for the championship.
The Middlebury College commencement speaker added that he hopes the games feature great basketball action for the fans — and that none of the athletes gets injured.