On April 30, 587 students graduated from the University of Redlands College of Arts and Sciences during a virtual Commencement ceremony.
Following a year of online courses and events, the ceremony was held virtually to ensure the health and safety of participants and compliance with State and County public health regulations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leading up to the University’s virtual Commencement Weekend, students participated in a variety of virtual and in-person events. Undergraduate and graduate students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community were honored during an online Lavender Recognition Ceremony. Students of color celebrated their accomplishments during the Students of Color Recognition ceremony, which was streamed on Facebook Live. Those who were the first in their families to graduate from college acknowledged their achievements during the First-Generation Graduation Reception.
Baccalaureate, a multifaith worship service, honored the graduating classes from all three Schools and their families. The Proudian Interdisciplinary Honors Celebration congratulated students involved in the program for their cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural academic achievements and ambitions.
On campus, students visited Addie, the University’s live Bulldog mascot, for graduation photos. The Associated Students of the University of Redlands coordinated and hosted a Carmencement event, allowing graduates to drive through campus, celebrate, and take photos with an administrator.
On May 1, the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies also held a celebration of students graduating from its program.
Crossing the finish line
In his opening remarks for the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony, Interim Dean and Professor of Political Science Steve Wuhs acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the deeply traditional event: “[We’re] missing what might have been. I wish I could be reading your names out loud. I wish your families could see you, cheer for you. I wish you could be recognized for your achievements in person.”
Broadening the scope of his remarks, Wuhs recalled the events that occurred within the past four years—both on campus and off—that shaped students’ lives and experiences. Even though students’ final year of undergraduate or graduate studies looked far different than anticipated, Wuhs noted that graduates took various challenges in stride. Giving kudos to students who attended and excelled in class, organized, spoke, presented, created, and made connections online, Wuhs congratulated students for their tenacity.
In his remarks, President Ralph W. Kuncl also harkened back four years, to when he met the students in the Class of 2021 and acknowledged the unparalleled struggle that students faced recently.
“It has been a year where so much has been lost, and sacrificed, and demanded,” he said. “The only constant during this pandemic year has been change, which has been thrust upon you and all of us. Many of these changes have been hard, and some have been extremely hard.
And yet, you are here. You made it to the finish line.”
‘Redlands chose you back’
Student speaker Abigail Fine ’21 took to the screen to deliver her speech, touching on her memories on the main Redlands campus where she spent much of her time as an Admissions Bulldog Ambassador, taking prospective students on campus tours. Here are excerpts from her remarks:
“Class of 2021, we did it!
After hundreds of hours on Zoom and in the classroom, dozens of night shifts at jobs, a few all-nighters in the library, thousands of laughs with friends, and the occasional, ‘professor, you’re on mute!’ we can finally all breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude. We’re graduating.
Four years ago, when many of us first stepped on campus and braved those 115 degrees move-in and orientation days, none of us imagined our Commencement would look like this. We expected to be shoulder to shoulder in the Greek theatre, surrounded by friends and family, and filled with nerves and excitement for the next chapter. Instead, we are a little further apart this year. Spending our senior year in a global pandemic makes it hard to remember what campus felt like before today, so I’ve cherry-picked a few familiar scenes to jog your memories:
We decorated our residence hall rooms with pictures and knocked on our neighbor’s door to shyly introduce ourselves; we thanked Lydia and Carlita and the Harvest Table staff for our food; we sang at the top of our lungs when Jesse McCartney performed Beautiful Soul at Springfest; we cheered on our fellow Bulldogs at a game and chanted the “Och Tamale”; and we conquered our fear of heights on an OP [Outdoors Program] trip.
I’ve spent much of my time in college guiding prospective students and their families around campus as a tour guide. And I always end my tour with my ‘Why Redlands?’ Over four years ago, what about this place made you send in your deposit and commit? I want to challenge all of you to think about that same question. What is your ‘Why Redlands?’
For some of you, it was the location. In beautiful sunny SoCal, where we can spend hours outside, enjoying the landscape around us. I’m from Minnesota and nothing gives me greater joy than when the temperature difference between campus and my parents’ house is more than 50 degrees. Maybe for you the palm trees, the mountains, and the Quad were so enticing, you had to choose Redlands.
For some of you, it was the opportunity to make your voice heard. You recognized the incredible diversity at Redlands and were excited to protest injustices, start a club targeted at inclusion, or engage in tough conversations with peers. You knew that at the Johnston Center, your creativity would shine, and you would be able to charter your own path. My eyes have been opened by participating in the Public Square Forum conversations to better understand the injustices both on campus and beyond. You rose up with students, faculty, and staff to start to make Redlands a more inclusive, diverse, and safe community for all, and this impact is why you chose Redlands.
For others of you, it was the educational advantages and career opportunities. You couldn’t wait for your Salzburg Semester or May Term in Palau. You knew that at Redlands you could grow not only as a student, but as a leader. You stayed a summer to do research with a professor, you became the president of a club, you joined an honor society, or you received a named scholarship. You couldn’t wait to experience a liberal arts education to become a more well-rounded individual. I think back about trekking up those three brutal flights of stairs in Hall of Letters to barely make it Art Svenson’s Constitutional Law class on time, but the second class started I didn’t even remember my burning thighs because the conversation was so engaging. You were excited about small class sizes where you were both seen and heard, and that is why you chose Redlands.
Whatever they are, your experiences here have shaped you, whether you’ve realized it or not. Four years ago, you chose Redlands, but not only did you choose Redlands, Redlands chose you back. The people here—faculty, administrators, staff, your peers—are as proud of us as we are grateful to them. I hope you are glad that four years ago, whatever that ‘Why Redlands’ was for you, you said ‘yes’ to going on this journey.
I often tell people I have the best job on campus, because I just get to share my experiences about the U of R. Not all of them have been good, but there are many that I wouldn’t trade. My ‘Why Redlands’ is the community we have built here. I thrive in an environment that fosters kindness and love that I can’t walk anywhere without running into a few friendly faces. Even as I’m leaving, this is my home, and I’m so glad I chose Redlands.
Coming to Redlands from 1,500 miles away, I was petrified I would feel alone here. So, when Thanksgiving rolled around my first year and it was too expensive to fly home, I had four offers from my U of R peers with whom I could stay and celebrate the holiday. Some of my best friends offered a seat at their table, but other offers came from professors or just someone I had mentioned my circumstance to in class. This truly exemplifies the community mentality I am so fortunate to have been a part of these past four years.
While we may have been seniors in a year unlike any other, we will leave this institution as better people, as we’ve have experienced such highs and lows. We gained the skills we came to college seeking, like public speaking, writing, research, and time management, but the COVID-19 pandemic awarded us skills we never signed up for, like how to balance responsibilities, the importance of communication, and maybe a new hobby or two. We have learned the skills of resilience and persistence, and we have shined even in darkness. We should be so proud of what we’ve accomplished, Class of 2021. We were able to graduate in the middle of a global pandemic, and that is no small feat.
So now, what do we do with this newfound skillset? It is time for all of us to move on and be change makers. We will take what we’ve learned, especially how to navigate Zoom, and begin our path forward. It might feel really scary right now, but we are ready. We will go onto jobs, further education, building families, and always knowing that Redlands is a home we can return to. We have never been more ready to enter a world that is waiting for us with open arms.
So, Class of 2021, remember your personal ‘Why Redlands?’ Now, let it propel you into the future. Let that reason for why you chose your university help you make future decisions. Remind yourself of your personal values and acknowledge the change and growth you have experienced over the past four years. There will definitely be ups and most likely downs, but now you have a steady place to always return to, a personal mission statement. Hold tight to it.
I am so excited to see where our future takes us, Class of 2021! But for now, let us celebrate our personal accomplishments, virtual cheers to us!”