Alumni return for on-campus traditions, graduation they missed due to pandemic
It was 2020 all over again this weekend—but in a good way. The Wheaton College Class of 2020 finally got the moment on stage that they missed out on when the pandemic led to a change of plans for Commencement—and life worldwide. The class graduated virtually that year but the joyous celebration they should have had on campus didn’t happen—until now. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, more than 240 alumni indulged in senior week traditions, including the white glove brunch, hoop roll on the Dimple and a Rosecliff ball in Emerson Dining, which was elegantly decorated with chandeliers, twinkle lights and taupe drapery.
The treasured well-deserved trip across the stage came on Sunday on a picture-perfect day. During the celebration, Wheaton President Michaele Whelan and Dennis M. Hanno, president emeritus, commended the class members on their resilience, revisited the time leading up to Sunday and noted the lessons learned as well as the losses (including the deaths of two classmates).
“Above all,” said President Whelan, “we have been reminded about the importance of community, the power of caring for each other and the comfort and joy of being together in person and celebrating together, which is why we are here.”
Hanno, who was president when college operations switched to remote, recalled the first time the class was gathered together on the Dimple this way—in August 2016 at their welcome celebration. That celebration featured hundreds of beach balls being tossed into the crowd. On Sunday, he just happened to have a couple of the same beach balls with him, which he pulled from behind the podium to toss out into the crowd of alums.
“It truly is amazing to see the turnout for this, to see you Class of 2020,” Hanno said. “You’ve been waiting more than two years, and it is so special to see how your bond to each other and to Wheaton has brought you back together for what is truly a one-of-a-kind weekend.”
Hanno called Maia Hay ’20, class chair, to the stage to say a few words in person since her original Commencement speech had to be delivered virtually.
“I want to say thank you to the Class of 2020! You came back and made it feel like home,” she said.
As alumni came to the stage, one by one after Hay, Whelan and Hanno greeted each of them with a handshake, a smile and their class flower, a rose. Raucous applause from more than 500 family members and friends, faculty and staff filled the Dimple.
During the weekend, Sophia Hatzikos ’20, who was Student Government Association president, was asked about why it was so important to come back.
“There’s something special about a place where you spent time together. Coming back with one another is something that is a privilege after having such an absence of time,” she said. “It’s meaningful to see the physicality of people in the spaces. And you just can’t replicate that in any virtual way.”
“A lot of us probably were searching for a way of having some closure that just didn’t happen,” said Hatzikos, who double majored in economics and visual art and teaches art at a high school in Portland, Oregon. “It’s really a unique opportunity to come to a liberal arts school and spend time with a close-knit group of people. And I think it’s really great that Wheaton provided this for us to have that closure and to see people.”
Photos by Keith Nordstrom and Stew Milne