“We were devastated a year ago when we were forced to hold our 2020 Commencement Ceremony in a virtual format.” That is what Jim Amidon ‘87, Chief of Staff to President Feller, told me when I asked him about the upcoming commencement ceremony and what that will look like in this year that has been anything but normal. Professor Jim Cherry, who serves as Faculty Marshal, echoed the same sentiment when I asked him some questions to see what other changes there may be for the ceremony in fifteen days.
This ceremony is yet another symbol of the recovery that Wabash has taken on this year during the pandemic. A little over 13 months ago, President Hess, who will be receiving an honorary degree at this year’s commencement, announced that he had to make the hard call to move the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony to a virtual format. In that email, he said that there was a hope to hold an in-person commencement at some point in the future. The administration probably did not expect it to take a year to make an in-person ceremony possible, but this has created an opportunity for a ceremony unlike any other, aligning itself with everything this academic year. Amidon told me that representatives from the Class of 2020 made it clear that their “goals were to be together, walk under the arch, and sing Old Wabash on the steps of the Allen Center.” In honoring that goal, the classes of 2020 and 2021 will share a commencement ceremony where they will get to do just that. Every member of these two classes will get to sing Old Wabash and the Alma Mater during the ceremony, walk across the stage to receive their diploma, and walk under the arch before singing Old Wabash on the steps of the Allen Center. For the Class of 2020, it’ll be their first time in a year, and they’ll get to join the Class of 2021 for their first time.
Rather than on the Mall in front of the chapel, this year’s ceremony will take place in the newly built Little Giant Stadium. Amidon told me that the stadium was chosen because it had the space for the necessary social distancing but could also accommodate four guests for every graduate, rather than the two guests that most colleges and universities are allotting for each graduate. Just like normal, two speakers from the graduating class will speak. With two classes, we’ll get a double feature of the regularly scheduled Malcolm Lang and Paul Haesemeyer with Nathan Gray and Marcus Torres representing the Class of 2020.
Two others will join them in the getting of degrees. Former President Gregory Hess H’19 and D. Melissa Butler H’85 will both receive Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from the College. Both have served this College greatly, Hess as the 16th President of the College and Dr. Butler as a longtime professor in the political science department. They join the ranks of former Wabash Presidents, legendary professors, and campus leaders.
Surely, in this year where nothing has been the same, graduation would be no different. While the ceremony may not be the same one that the classes of 2020 and 2021 imagined when they paid their deposits and joined our ranks, there is no doubt that it will be a special one. They will all get to hear from their classmates and faculty about Wabash and what the future may hold for them. They will all get to walk under the arch, this time not fearing that they will fail comps. Whether the weather in Indiana cooperates or not, President Feller will use Caleb Mils’ bell to ring out his first class of Wabash men in a matter of weeks. COVID-19 may have forced Wabash to change, but it will not be able to stop the Wabash community from celebrating its grads for their hard work.