Fall Break, which took place from Oct. 9-11, usually means that a number of current Muhlenberg students traveled home to reconnect with family and friends. This year, however, the campus was far from empty.
After a sudden, unprecedented end to their undergraduate careers, members of the class of 2020 were unable to enjoy long-standing Muhlenberg traditions which normally take place at the end of their last year. The College hosted a virtual commencement on Oct. 18, 2020, where students were awarded their degrees and listened to the words of commencement speaker Anthony Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard. However, an in-person celebration was in order, and members of the class were invited back during Fall Break.
The alumni were allowed to invite up to five guests to the graduation ceremony, but only one of those guests was permitted to stay with the graduates for the gala and the brunch. These rules were set in place in accordance with Muhlenberg’s Fall 2021 COVID-19 protocols, which state that, “The spread of the Delta variant across the nation has required a masking requirement for any indoor campus spaces (except when eating) and outdoor events with large crowds.” Since the gala and the brunch did include opportunities for guests to enjoy food and beverages, proof of vaccination was required in order to enter.
The events of Saturday, Oct. 9 began with opportunities to take tours of the Haas bell tower, as well as a small social function in the Light Lounge. For the main event, roughly 200 members of the Class of 2020 gathered in Memorial Hall of the Life Sports Center on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. to take part in an in-person graduation ceremony. Most came in the caps and gowns they had ordered but never had the chance to don. As Provost Laura Furge read each graduate’s name, they were able to walk across the stage and take a photo with President Kathleen Harring.
“I must first acknowledge the significance of being here with you today. 2020 was most definitely a year of disruptions in academia, business and life,” stated Benjamin Miles III ‘13, the ceremony’s guest of honor. “Today’s celebration is a testament to the administration, faculty and Muhlenberg community at large, who are no less committed to your success given these uncertain times.”
Following the graduation proceedings, the College hosted a gala in the Seegers Union Event Space from 8-11 p.m., which was complete with refreshments, dancing and entertainment.
“Today’s celebration is a testament to the administration, faculty and Muhlenberg community at large, who are no less committed to your success given these uncertain times.”
On Sunday, Oct. 10, the Egner Memorial Chapel held a memorial service for professor emeritus of history Dan Wilson, a revered community member and educator whose life’s work impacted academia at Muhlenberg over a number of years. Some members of the class of 2020 took their seats alongside Wilson’s wife, Carol, and many close family members and friends. The program featured a number of reflections and hymns from Chaplain Janelle Neubauer and those close to Wilson, as well as a performance of John Rutter’s “Requiem Aeternam” by members of the Muhlenberg Chamber Choir and chapel organist Drew Lutz-Long.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking,” stated Harring, during her closing remarks of the graduation ceremony. “It can’t be changed without changing our thinking. We need to leave behind the expectations that we have. We need to stop, pay attention, evaluate our biases and actively seek out alternative explanations.”
Johnny Veglia ‘24 said, “I think the ceremony went well and allowed for a form of recognition for these deserving students and human beings. I was personally assisting with Cardinal Key Society and making sure family members and other important individuals could find a seat in the gymnasium. I do think some of the seating could have been handled differently, as some family members who needed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations could not have the experience they desired. I also loved seeing these graduates back on campus and making sure they had the proper sendoff they deserved.”
“It can’t be changed without changing our thinking. We need to leave behind the expectations that we have. We need to stop, pay attention, evaluate our biases and actively seek out alternative explanations.”
“The weekend provided a lot of closure for me— it was definitely not anything I imagined when I stepped on campus, now, five years ago. I was hoping the turnout would be a little better so I could see more of my friends that I haven’t seen since March 2020. But now we all have real jobs or are in grad school and carving out that time was difficult,” stated Monique Beaupre ‘20. “I had to take a day off of work to go. But it was worth it. Hearing my name along with everything I worked so hard for made it all worth it. Catching up with some of my favorite professors and staff made me so happy. I’m glad Muhlenberg gave us a moment to celebrate, even if it was 510 days later!”
“I know that leading up to graduation, a lot of people were saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to come. Do we really need another graduation ceremony?’ But in the end, so many of us showed up, and I’m so glad we did,” stated Brooke Weber ‘20. “I think we all not-so-secretly needed this, just a day or two to plop us all back into some version of college life. It was really, really strange to see everyone, because it was a total cut off for a year and a half and then, bam, everyone was back right where we left off. I talked to people I hadn’t spoken to in a year as if we’d just left a midday class and stumbled into each other in GQ. Everyone couldn’t stop saying how weird it was; we all needed to process. But I do feel like it gave us some sense of closure, and I’m really grateful for that. It was really great to reconnect and confirm that, while we’ve all grown and changed in a lot of ways, we haven’t totally lost who we were a year and a half ago.”