In April 2020, people across the country were sheltering in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans for an in-person Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 were postponed. During this year’s Commencement Weekend, the University of Redlands hosted a special program to recognize College of Arts and Sciences students in the Class of 2020—many of whom initially celebrated their achievements at home in the first chaotic months of lockdown.
Interim Dean and Professor of Political Science Steve Wuhs addressed students virtually. In addition to speaking about the shared experience of working and learning from home in the early months of the pandemic, Wuhs expressed his sadness, on the behalf of last year’s graduating class, that the students began the next chapter in their lives without a proper Commencement ceremony.
“I’m so sorry that life doesn’t have a rewind button, a way to move backward,” he said. “You deserved to walk, we all agree. And you deserve, still, to be celebrated and recognized in person. We will get there—because we are proud of you, your achievements, your grit, your contributions to your communities. For now, I hope that you enjoy this virtual opportunity to come back together again and see where your friends and classmates have gone since you were last together.”
Continuing the journey of 10,000 miles
Maxine Mchunguzi ’20, who delivered the class’s Commencement address virtually last year, returned to the screen to speak to her classmates. While acknowledging the anguish and frustration of the past year, Mchunguzi also recognized the moments of joy that she witnessed by connecting with fellow classmates online—from learning a new recipe to hearing announcements of graduate school acceptance. Here are excerpts from her speech.
“The last time I had the honor of speaking to you all, we were each beginning our journeys of 10,000 miles. And trust me when I say I had underestimated all the ways that our paths would meander, how layovers would be increasingly long, and the hard, unplanned pitstops some of us would have to take along the way.
I definitely did not imagine I'd be sitting here talking to you all a year later. How has it been a year, through yet another video? But in the midst of my heartbreaking knowledge, of all the things that the pandemic has stripped of us, each in different ways, I learned that I had to change my perspective.
Sometimes I had to sit in the passenger seat, look out the window, and see the clear skies that had just been touched by the storm. Now we can all admit that COVID has changed life as we know it. We may each know someone we've lost to the virus, people or places we haven't been able to see and opportunities that did not come to fruition.
I still remember the day we received the email asking us to evacuate from campus. It still feels like a bad dream. In the mad rush to pack and leave, we did not get to say goodbye in the ways we wanted to. Whether that was with friends, professors, or amazing custodians. We missed out on senior ceremonies and events to celebrate all the long hours we put into getting our degrees. But, most importantly, we missed our graduation, which is arguably not just an event for the individual, but the community as well.
Since freshmen procession, I can imagine each of us had in mind either our mentors, parents, friends organizations, cheering us on in the heat of the Greek Theatre. I would like to take this moment to acknowledge and especially congratulate first-generation students who did not get to celebrate this moment in the ways that you deserved.
Graduating is never easy, especially in the midst of the pandemic. You can't necessarily ask your parents or mentors or friends how to handle a pandemic. And because of this adjustment period, it has given me and hopefully you the chance to do some introspection. Lately, I've been focusing on changing my perspective. Because a W can look like an M based on where you're standing. And so, I have to acknowledge some of the positive things I have seen my peers do this past year. From the copious amounts of banana bread baked, whipped coffee drank, and Tik Tok dances learned, I've had the privilege to see you get into your dream graduate schools, get new jobs, and having new amazing experiences. I did some things that I never thought I would do, such as subscribing for Zoom premium. These little moments give me hope for all the miles that you're traveling along your journey.
I hold on to the hope that we will see old roommates, sorority sisters, professors, friends, and all the people who enriched our Redlands experience. I know when this day comes, we will inspire one another with fantastic stories and memories that happened along the way. Because the most important part of any journey is all the things you see whilst going through it.
I hope the pitstop has a gas station with amazing snacks and your layover is comfortable. And if you're one of the lucky few whose journey has continued on course, I hope and I pray that your metaphorical flight has extra legroom. Until we meet again, I would like to say in my mother tongue of Kiswahili ‘safari njema,’ which means ‘Have a safe journey.’ Och Tamale.”
Looking forward with hope
Echoing Mchunguzi’s remarks, former Associated Students of the University of Redlands President Jacob Miner ’20 addressed his classmates, noting that his network of fellow Bulldogs sustained him throughout the pandemic. Nearing the end of his talk, Miner noted that, while the virtual celebration has been a time to reminisce, he looks forward with hope.
“We've all experienced our own sense of loss, and my heart goes out to each and every one of you,” he said. “The clouds are lifting slowly but surely from this very long storm. I am ecstatic for the day that we can finally be Bulldogs back together again. Congratulations, Class of 2020. Hold this milestone near and dear, for this is an achievement that no one can take away from you. Stay well, stay safe, and Och Tamale.”
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