A Year Later, the Class of 2020 Gets Its In-Person Commencement

Said class speaker Joy Dunna of their senior year of COVID: “To no one’s surprise, Gusties are resilient.”
Posted on May 17th, 2021 by

Part unofficial reunion, part cathartic closure, and all joyful, members of the Class of 2020 returned to the beloved campus they abruptly exited last spring.

Though the weather had earlier threatened rain, it was sunny and mid-70s. Like the Class of 2021 (who celebrated Commencement on Thursday), the Class of 2020 deserved a celebration on one of the most beautiful days Minnesota has to offer. It was even (wink) gusty.

“I remember getting a text from President Bergman that said, please call me as soon as possible,” said Scott Anderson ’89, chairman of the Gustavus Board of Trustees, recalling that fateful week in March of 2020 when a global pandemic cleared campus. “One thing I remember from that conversation was the commitment from Gustavus that the Class of 2020 would graduate on campus.”

Sunday’s Commencement was the second-largest gathering on campus in 15 months, with more than half of the 464 students who received baccalaureate degrees returning. In keeping with COVID protocols, they were seated six feet apart on Hollingsworth Field and a limited number of guests in the stands. The Alma Mater song was sung not by a senior ensemble but by soloist Aleah Felton ’20. Masks were required, with a Gustie-designed mask (courtesy Bryanna Filip ’21) added to caps, gowns, and tassels. Members of the Class of 2020 also received special gifts from the College: a bag filled with Book Mark items including a hat, a notebook, a tumbler, and a travel mug; and a watercolor of campus made specifically for them.

“We’re finally back together again!” exclaimed Joy Dunna ’20, the Class’s commencement speaker. Now working on a master’s degree in education, the history and gender, women, and sexuality double major (and 2017 St. Lucia) spoke of the stress and trauma of a senior year stunted by COVID. “Not to be dramatic, but we’ve been put through a lot,” she said. “Part of being human means happiness and sorrow. But our resilience allows us to live through it.” She spoke of a 2020 watching the COVID death trackers rise, of the unjust killing of George Floyd and many other people of color. “The Justice pillar is right in the middle of the Caf,” Dunna said, noting the weight of the metaphor for all Gusties. “What will you do to achieve a more equitable world?” She spoke of the core value of Community. “It’s not taken lightly at Gustavus.” And she spoke of purpose. “It does not have to be singular.”

She ended with a singular emotion: love. To a class forever bound by tumultuous, historical circumstances that will undoubtedly show up in the syllabi of future Gusties, she said, “I radically love you all.”

President Bergman thanked the class for their patience in waiting a year for their on-campus Commencement. “You have my admiration for your tenacity and resilience,” she said. She echoed Dunna’s comments on the core values. “Where Service and Justice are woven into the fabric of Gustavus, they are woven into your soul.” And she echoed Dunna’s comments on purpose, imploring the class to “live on purpose, with purpose, and full of purpose,” by both being in relationship with people and being a person of action. She invoked the Gustavus vision statement. “Think about what you have learned and how you might apply it to challenges around the world,” she said. With a year of post-college experience under their belts, the members of this class have already had practice living through a really great challenge. As the U.S. slowly emerges from pandemic life, the class is well equipped—and ready—to serve it.

“It has been almost a year since you took your last final,” President Bergman said. “There is no test today. This is your Commencement. Treat it as a new beginning.”

Select photos of the day can be found here. More will be uploaded in the coming days.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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