Virtual and in-person celebrations for graduates

Wheaton College Commencement honors Class of 2021 in ceremonies online and on campus

Like everything else during the past pandemic year, things looked a lot different at Wheaton College’s 186th Commencement held on Saturday, May 22. The occasion was celebrated in a virtual event as well as in-person on campus in five separate ceremonies with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

The joy and pride remained the same as the 402 members of the Class of 2021 completed their Wheaton journey.

Viewers were able to watch the virtual livestreamed ceremony at 8:30 a.m., and families and guests were on campus for their graduates during five separate ceremonies later in the day that were grouped by majors to manage capacity limits.

Students were allowed to invite up to two guests each for ceremonies that took place from 10 a.m to 4:30 p.m. on the expansive Chapel Field near Peacock Pond.

View a Facebook gallery of the in-person event.

Janet Lindholm Lebovitz ’72, chair of the Wheaton College Board of Trustees, opened the virtual ceremony; Caleigh Grogan ’18, Center for Social Justice and Community Impact interfaith engagement coordinator, delivered the invocation; Ian Hamilton ’21 sang the Wheaton Anthem, and Joshua Bauchner ’95, Alumni Association President, welcomed the graduates into the Alumni Association.

During the in-person event on campus, President Dennis M. Hanno delivered remarks before each ceremony. Seniors, who were lined up and safely distanced, picked up their diplomas from a table and proceeded to another area, where they waited for the president to signal the changing of their tassels as a group of graduates. A few remote students participated via a LED screen to be represented on stage.

President Dennis M. Hanno set a joyous tone with remarks at all the ceremonies.

“Congratulations on all that you have accomplished and the hard work that has brought you to this momentous occasion—the early mornings pondering theories; the late nights studying; the leadership and internship opportunities explored; your unshakable commitment to following your passions; and your understanding, patience and flexibility in the final challenging year of your time here,” Hanno told the graduating seniors during the virtual ceremony that featured a slideshow of all students.

“You arrived on campus four years ago hopeful and excited—and maybe a little nervous. As you leave us now, you likely are filled with the same emotions. Never lose that. It means that you have high expectations of yourself and of the world. Be confident in the fact that you have everything you need to meet those expectations. Your successful journey through Wheaton proves that.”

The Class of 2021 Chair David Palombo ’21 reflected on those beginning days and the final days leading up to Commencement.

“Each and every one of us has achieved, and overachieved, during an event that will be spoken of in whispers for the rest of our lives,’’ Palombo said during the virtual event. “We are a very, very distinct generation, and we’ve navigated these circumstances with aplomb so unlike any yet seen. I am so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. Seriously, I think every member of the Class of 2021 could write their own best-selling book about how they’ve gotten where they are today—we’re just that interesting. What we’ve gone through is going to make every ceremony after this one seem just a touch boring.”

“Class of 2021, I’ll leave you with this: we are the new precedent,” Palombo said. “The next time someone refers to these as ‘unprecedented times,’ look right into their eyes and tell them that you, a member of a very select few, are the precedent. …Because if this couldn’t keep us down, nothing will.”

Honorary degrees also were presented to E. Frances “Fran” White, a Wheaton Class of 1971 graduate, historian and author, and James “Jamie” Ellis Washington, president and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, and president and co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute.

Recipients usually receive accolades in person, but this year they were recognized during the virtual ceremony by Hanno and Provost Renée T. White. They will receive their honorary doctor of laws awards at a later date.

In his charge to the Class of 2021, Hanno asked the graduates to think about the special community of which they will always be a part.

“While each of us has had our own Wheaton experience, realize that we all share in the way those experiences were shaped. Others helped us to get here. We have all made lifelong friends here, and we will always be connected to this place and the support it offers us,” he said. “As you receive this prized degree, reflect on the simple fact that we all came together, that we all worked and played and lived life together, and that this special place exists for just one common purpose: that you may have life and may have it abundantly.”

Wheaton College is a liberal arts college located in Norton, Mass., enrolling approximately 1,700 students and offering more than 100 majors and minors. Since 2000, Wheaton students have won more than 250 scholarship and fellowship awards.