By Cole Hatcher
Ohio Wesleyan University held a combined 176th and 177th commencement ceremony May 29, celebrating its Classes of 2020 and 2021 and the students who persevered during a pandemic with “creativity, ingenuity, and profound commitment.”
The ticketed event was held outdoors in Ohio Wesleyan’s historic Selby Stadium, with President Rock Jones, Ph.D., addressing the graduates and their families and friends.
“You are the classes that were abruptly sent home,” Jones told the graduates. “You found yourself studying in spaces not designed for academic work. You attended classrooms defined by small squares on your laptop screen, or even smaller squares on your phone. You engaged in research and completed internships in virtual environments. You wore masks, practiced social distance, monitored your health, (and) took COVID tests.
“And yet, from my view, that is not the real story,” Jones said. “The real story is the creativity, ingenuity, and profound commitment you brought to the work before you. You never stopped. You persisted. And today, we can say not only that you are as well prepared as those who went before you; we can say that with the lessons learned in this pandemic, you are well prepared for what lies ahead.”
Also sharing reflections with the commencement crowd were Nevin Horne, president of the Class of 2020, and Shay Manuela, student representative of the Class of 2021.
“I remember getting that email in March of 2020. We all know it,” recalled Horne, a Business Administration major now working and living in Olney, Maryland. “Rock telling us our year was over. Well, not really over, but effectively so. …
“What do you say to people when something so life-changing has occurred?” Horne asked his classmates. “We have gone a year with little to no outside lives, and now we are back to actually celebrate the very thing we set out to achieve in the fall of 2016. Commencement is a milestone accomplishment, and we deserve to celebrate today with family and friends.”
Manuela, a Communication major from the Netherlands, also congratulated all of the graduates on their persistence and resilience.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, we continued pushing for our dreams,” said Manuela, whose OWU experience included working as an intern for “Saturday Night Live.”
“And now we sit here in Selby Stadium celebrating an in-person commencement. Who would have thought this would be possible today!” she said.
“Globally, only 7 percent of adults have a college degree, making those with a degree a minority. This degree is a privilege. Don’t let it blind you, but rather let it open your eyes to those who do not have a voice,” Manuela said. “As we embark on our journey today, we face an important responsibility. Your words and knowledge hold power; how will you use yours?”
The graduating students included two members who achieved perfect 4.0 grade point averages: Claudia Kelly of Ukiah, California, from the Class of 2020 and Darcy Picker of Mount Gilead, Ohio, from the Class of 2021.
During the Saturday morning ceremony, the university also honored six outstanding faculty members with special awards:
Ohio Wesleyan also recognized 28 professors who retired in 2020 and 2021 with the Adam Poe Medal, named after the University’s founder, for their accomplished careers and the life-changing impact they have had on students.
President Jones concluded the combined commencement ceremony with Ohio Wesleyan’s traditional benediction, encouraging OWU’s newest alumni to share their knowledge and compassion with a world in need.
“If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found freedom, take it with you into the world,” Jones said. “If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found peace, go and share it with others. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have found some portion of truth, go and seek it all the more. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have learned to dream dreams, help one another, and those dreams may come true. If, here at Ohio Wesleyan, you have known love, give some back to a hurting and bruised world.”
Video of Ohio Wesleyan’s commencement ceremony will be posted online – along with programs, photographs, and more – at owu.edu/commencement.
Photo: Ohio Wesleyan University celebrated a combined 176th and 177th commencement ceremony May 29 in its historic Selby Stadium. The OWU Classes of 2020 and 2021 include 630 graduates from both academic years. (Photo by Paul Vernon)