Virtual Commencement Celebrates Albion College’s Class of 2020

May 2, 2020

By Jake Weber

Altanzul Davaa-Ochir, ’20, in front of Kresge Gymnasium on May 2. Even before the pandemic, she was prepared for a bittersweet day. “I was in Albion for the last two Commencements and it’s hard for the international students, not having their families,” she said. (Mongolia has closed the borders even to its own citizens and Davaa-Ochir is unsure when she will return.) “Albion is a great community but it’s still hard feeling like you’re alone in the middle of all that celebration. My mom offered to watch the virtual Commencement with me, but it’s 1 a.m. for her, so I told her we could watch it together later.”

It turned out to be a perfect day for an Albion College Commencement that didn’t happen in Albion.

Nonetheless, while Albion’s virtual Commencement, and virtual Honors Convocation the day before, didn’t include hugs, handshakes and proud parents with cameras, the events provided some special moments and unique memories.

Kody Smith, ’20 (far left), with his family on Commencement day, May 2.

“My family and I really enjoyed the virtual Commencement,” said Kody Smith, ’20, on what was also the 20th anniversary of his first Albion Commencement (for uncle Scott Smith, ’00). He tuned into the ceremony from Dundee, Mich. “I thought the way we could see Dr. Ditzler signing the diploma as our names were read was very creative and a nice touch. It was really nice to hear him speak one last time.”

The necessity of “virtual” brought in new touches—the display of diplomas and a celebratory photo montage—while holding fast to the important aspects of the tradition.

“I want to remind everyone that while this seems like just an ordinary day, it’s not,” said Alondra Alcazar, ’20, who presented a student welcome in English and Spanish, reflecting the expanded campus diversity under President Mauri Ditzler’s tenure. Alcazar encouraged her classmates to celebrate the day as the marker for their lives, even in such trying times. “This is our time to shine; our time has just begun,” she said. “I’m a little scared, but we got this.”

Hanna Parisi, ’20, in Prentice, Wis., watched Commencement with family and friends in three states via Zoom. “I liked being able to celebrate with my family when my name was announced,” she said.

Sunny Kim, ’20, presented the senior class address and recalled her personal story of how the COVID-19 global pandemic ended her on-campus Albion student experience. “I wanted the hors d’oeuvres, I wanted to recarpet Goodrich, I wanted the beautiful gown,” said the music and business major of the senior recital she had been preparing for four years. It became a performance for a handful of friends at 9 p.m. on the evening before she went home to shelter in place.

“When I played that last note, it hit me. … At the end of the day, I didn’t want the prestige,” she recalled. Rather, Kim said, the work is “about these moments. It’s about the last minute of your last game, your last hug, the last event you plan, the last dance you do, even that last game of flip cup.

“I feel like we never have the value of a moment until it goes away. It sounds cheesy but it’s true,” added Kim, who recently received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Mexico, scheduled to begin in 2021. “This whole situation has made me think about the moment we have right now, and the moments we had at Albion College. … May we never take a moment for granted again.”

Chris Bell, ’20, video-chatted with Hanna Parisi after the event. Bell, who lives in Albion, went to Kresge Gym, Parisi said, “and walked us across the steps.”

Dr. Nicolle Zellner, professor of physics, who gave the faculty charge to the Class of 2020 during their matriculation to Albion nearly four years ago, noted that more than a third of the class reached out to her to share their best memories and thoughts, many of which she shared in her farewell remarks. The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow Trustees’ Professor in the Sciences encouraged the graduates to remember that Albion won’t be just a memory.

“Go out into the world and do great things,” Zellner said. “Remember that Albion College will always be waiting for you to come home.”

One day earlier, on May 1, Albion’s virtual Honors Convocation recognized more than 100 students and several faculty members for excellence as learners, teachers, scholars and mentors. The program featured dozens of personal student thank-you messages, actually allowing for more participation than the traditional ceremony.

“The 2018 Honors Convocation was one of the first times I visited campus, and I wanted to be a part of it someday,” said Sai Chintalapati, ’22, recipient of this year’s H.E. Pettersen Outstanding Sophomore Dual-Degree Pre-Engineering Award. “Though a physical convocation is obviously ideal, I think they did a great job adapting to the new medium. It recognized students duly and gave them time to say thank you.”

“Remember that while you’re missing the beauty of Albion, the real beauty is the people who are excited,” President Mauri Ditzler said during his Commencement greeting. “Your parents don’t care where this is occurring. What they care about is honoring you. It’s a very special accomplishment. This is going to be a good graduation, even though it’s slightly unusual circumstances.”

“Personally I think both ceremonies provided a joyous ending to an extremely challenging school year,” said Dr. Mareike Wieth, professor of psychological science, who was named the College’s Arthur Andersen Teacher of the Year during Honors Convocation. “I hope all of our graduates could feel the Albion spirit, no matter where they watched the ceremonies, I certainly could.”

Watch Albion College’s virtual 2020 Commencement

Watch Albion College’s virtual 2020 Honors Convocation