Saving Senior Year: Commencement of 2020

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The month of May at New England College is typically filled with Disney-like magic. Finals are wrapping up and students are flying around campus with newfound, excited energy. The Simon Lawn is decorated with white chairs, neatly aligned under bright New Hampshire sunbeams, promising a sunburn and a degree. Pink tulips and yellow daffodils are stretching tall and vibrant against freshly cut green blades of grass, the bookstore becomes a closet for caps and gowns, the campus a slow building celebration. Near the Contoocook River, the Covered Bridge awaits familiar feet that walked across it four years before: The Class of 2020.

This May is different.

On March 24th, shortly after New England College had made the transition online due to the spread of the novel Coronavirus, President Perkins announced that the 73rd Commencement of New England College scheduled to take place on May 9th, 2020 would move forward virtually. Additionally, she extended an invitation for the Class of 2020 to join the Class of 2021 on the Simon Lawn a year from now to merge graduations. The feeling in the air was similar to an abrupt ending in a book; but rather than accept this ending, students championed on for a Commencement on their terms: one that was not virtual, not merged, but in 2020, their year.

It started with a petition.

Hannah Nelson is a NEC Women’s basketball player, Co-Editor-in-Chief of The NewEnglander, and the Senior Class President for the Class of 2020: “My first thought was to start a petition, but I was nervous to mention it to anyone. When one of my teammates suggested to start one, I got right on it.”

The petition blazed across social media, garnering 383 signatures, 383 supporters. Dozens of comments followed from students, families, and friends advocating that the Seniors of 2020 were more than deserving of a proper celebration.

“Once I started reading some of the messages that people were leaving at the bottom of the petition, I realized that maybe I could use my writing abilities to add to the sentiment. I typed up an email rather quickly and had quite a few people read it over before I sent it to the Senior Team Leadership.”

As the echoes of student voices became louder and louder, New England College lent a listening ear. Wayne Lesperance, Vice President of Academic Affairs, held a meeting that involved some of the Class of 2020, giving Seniors the opportunity to ask questions and receive some clarity about what was to come; they found out that a different Commencement was in the works, not virtual, not merged.

Following up her initial March 24th email, President Perkins announced that she had concluded that a fall Commencement on the Simon Green is possible and would take place. The Class of 2020 will graduate on the Simon Lawn on October 4th, 2020 during Alumni Weekend.

For Nelson, and other seniors, the heaviness in the air lifted like a fog.

“There was a lot of positive feedback from other Seniors, which relieved my stress in the form of happy tears. For the administration to make plans for us to have Commencement in October was great, almost like we were getting a piece of our Senior year back.”

Under the sweet October sun, beaming through a watercolor of foliage, the Class of 2020 will return. The Seniors will gather on the Covered Bridge one last time, donning their robes, their feet marching along with the procession. Their ending and new beginning will be reaching for a diploma, celebrated by ripples of applause and cheers.

“I hope that graduation this fall is one to remember,” Nelson said.

They are strong, united, resilient; they are the Class of 2020.

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