The graduating class of 2021 will be honored May 6-9, and a separate long-anticipated commencement ceremony will be held for the class of 2020 on May 8.
An awards ceremony will be held at 11:15 a.m. on May 6 in the Founders’ Memorial Amphitorium to recognize leadership and academic and artistic excellence, as well as staff and faculty service. Additionally, graduating nursing students will take part in the traditional pinning ceremony at 2 p.m. in Rodeheaver Auditorium. At 4 p.m., graduating criminal justice majors will meet in Stratton Hall for the presentation of challenge coins, a symbol of pride in their profession.
On Thursday night, a baccalaureate service will be held to issue a challenge to both the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes as they celebrate the completion of their college careers. The guest speaker is Dr. Les Ollila, who spoke at Bible Conference in February. Following the service, graduating seniors with an alumni parent will be invited to attend the annual Alumni Legacy Ceremony at 8:30 p.m. These students are given a medallion to wear during graduation, signifying their families’ multi-generational histories with BJU.
On May 7 at 2 p.m., the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2021 begins. The ceremony will feature testimonies from seniors describing what their time at BJU has meant to them. As a result of the reduced capacity of the FMA, undergraduate students will be not attend in person to allow room for the families and invited guests of the graduates.
Instead, students interested in watching the ceremony can attend one of several watch parties that will be held in various locations around campus. The Den, DFH and gazebo will stream the ceremony on Friday, and COVID-concerned individuals may choose to watch in Stratton Hall.
The commencement for the Class of 2020 will take place the next day, May 8, at 10:30 a.m. Unticketed individuals may watch in the balcony or virtually in The Den or Stratton Hall.
Finding a way to safely hold both ceremonies posed a challenge due to the number of people who will be coming to campus during the planned events. “There’s been a lot of creative thinking on how we can honor [the graduating classes], but also keep it as safe as possible,” said Dr. Matthew Weathers, director of the Center for Leadership Development.
After the student body was sent home in March 2020, the in-person ceremony was put on hold indefinitely. “When the news hit, obviously there was a lot of emotion,” Max Burack, the senior class representative for the 2020 class, said. “We had the senior class party that very night, which was super fun. Then we all said goodbye, and . . . everybody got out real quick.” The postponed ceremony was originally rescheduled for Aug. 29, 2020, before it was once again pushed back. Of the 650 graduates from the Class of 2020, 330 are returning to participate in the ceremony.
Graduates from the Class of 2021 are excited to start a new chapter of their life. “I’m super excited,” said Nathan Swaim, a senior accounting major. “But I’m also realizing how little time I have left to enjoy my college years and to develop those relationships I’ve been developing for the last several years.”
For many members of the 2020 class, being able to graduate evokes different emotions. “The biggest difference is that last year, the excitement was for graduating,” Burack said. “Now, everybody’s moved on. The excitement this year is more just about seeing each other again. It’s not really a sense of accomplishment as much as a reunion.”