Augustana to conduct two graduation ceremonies for class of 2020


Due to COVID-19, Augustana College has made unprecedented changes to provide students education and services, including reworking their graduation ceremony. On Tuesday, April 14, the college announced that it would be conducting two commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020.
Before the virus became a deadly pandemic, the college’s traditional commencement ceremony was scheduled for May 23. Instead, a short online ceremony will be held that day at 2 p.m.
But unlike other colleges that have canceled their traditional commencement ceremonies altogether, Augustana will also hold a formal, traditional ceremony on Oct. 11.
According to President Steven Bahls, these decisions were made after discussions with the Student Advisory Council to the President, who expressed a great desire to have a traditional graduation. Because the college is legally required to give out degrees, a virtual ceremony in May is necessary. 
Though not all plans are in place regarding the online ceremony, Bahls said students should expect an invocation from Pastor Priggie, official conferring of degrees by Provost Wendy Hilton-Morrow, a short graduate talk, message from the president and a possible choral performance by the Augustana Choir.
On Oct. 11, there will be a baccalaureate service at 10 a.m. in Centennial Hall before the formal commencement ceremony in the TaxSlayer Center at 2 p.m. 
Seniors Matt Friello and Cindy Osagie expressed concern regarding the date of the ceremony for students who will be in grad school, have employment or are out of the country. But according to Bahls, for those that are unable to attend, the ceremony will be broadcasted.
The date of the formal commencement also falls during Augustana’s 100th Homecoming Week. 
Hilton-Morrow said this was intentional as it “would be a time that we might already be having alumni coming back to campus, a lot of excitement around events and an opportunity to reconnect.”
Bahls said that he is hopeful there will also be specific events for the class of 2020 included in the Homecoming festivities that weekend. 
However, because the virus is so unpredictable, no one can say with 100 percent certainty that it will no longer be a threat in October. But according to Hilton-Morrow, the college is confident they will not have to cancel again. If social distancing is still required at that time, Bahls said that the TaxSlayer provides enough space for attendees to do so.
“There is a small contingency that we can’t do it in October – have gatherings of that size – and we’ll talk with seniors about what they want to do,” Bahls said. “My own preference is, I am bound and determined to do a live graduation, and we’ll do a live graduation as soon as we can do a live graduation.”
According to Keri Rursch, assistant vice president of communications and marketing, for students who are walking in October, caps and gowns will be available for pick-up on campus in the days preceding the event. If students are unable to be on campus before the ceremony, they will be available at the TaxSlayer Center on the morning of. For those who cannot attend, caps and gowns will be received in the mail. 
“We all are very much looking forward to a time when we can gather in person and celebrate this class,” Hilton-Morrow said. “I know that this has been a very difficult time for all of our students, particularly for our seniors who are experiencing a sense of loss and a sense of grief, but I think this experience is something that’s also going to bind this group of students in unexpected ways well beyond their years at Augustana.” 
Both Friello and Osagie are excited to have the opportunity to walk across the graduation stage in October. 
“I’m very grateful for all the work our school and administration has put into ensuring that we get an in-person ceremony, and I cannot imagine how difficult it was to reschedule that and I’m so appreciative to them,” Osagie said. 
Bahls said he is “so proud of the class of 2020.”
“One of the attributes of a world citizen is adaptability, ability to deal with ambiguity and ability to keep a good spirit when, in fact, things aren’t going the way that we like,” Bahls said. “So I’m very proud of your class, very proud of the spirit of seniors and it’s going to be my proudest graduation when I can congratulate you all on commencement day. You’re a special class.”
Featured graphic by Kevin Donovan/Observer staff