Commencement Postponed
Seniors were celebrated in July, but pandemic delays official graduation ceremony
by Brooke Thames
fire pit
fire pit
Photos: Gordon Wenzel; Daniel Earhart
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Top: The Class of 2020 gathered Oct. 21, 2016, in Rooke Chapel for First Night, an event that symbolizes the start of first-year students’ lifelong journey as Bucknellians. Above: The senior class tribute was a fire pit.
With deep regret shared by many in the Bucknell community, University President John Bravman announced in June the rescheduling of the Class of 2020 Commencement ceremony for spring 2021, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Originally set for May 17, the ceremony had been moved to July 19, but as the latter date approached, it became clear that state COVID-19 guidelines would likely prohibit large gatherings of people through the summer months.

Intent on honoring the Class of 2020 despite the physical distance, Bucknell students, faculty, administrators and alumni came together virtually for an online Commencement celebration on July 19. Video messages from Bravman, Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, former Save the Children CEO and keynote speaker Carolyn Speer Miles ’83, P’14, and student speaker Brishti Mandal ’20 spoke to the achievements and character of the class.

“Let’s never stop caring and being responsible for each other’s safety, well-being, dignity and respect,” urged Mandal, who emphasized the importance of sticking together despite the distance separating Bucknellians during the pandemic.

Born and raised in India, the mechanical engineering major chose Bucknell because of its vibrant community of “artists, humanists [and] scientists.” As an international woman of color, the opportunity to represent her class as this year’s student speaker felt incredibly special, she said.

It was also a meaningful moment for Lily Mitchell ’20, whose videotaped performance of the national anthem was a highlight of the celebration. The sociology major from Baltimore dedicated the song to her father, Mark Mitchell ’81, who passed away in the fall.

For Bravman, the online event was another chance to applaud the Class of 2020. Throughout the spring, the president shared several heartfelt video messages with this year’s graduates, including one that announced the senior class tribute — a fire pit located steps away from the Bucknell Farm on South Campus.

“Know that you are in our hearts, and that whenever we get to hold Commencement, it will be one of the most special occasions not only in your life but in the life of this University,” Bravman said in the video. “You are now, and will forevermore be, Bucknellians.”

Prior to the July 19 virtual event, seniors eligible to graduate were mailed diplomas inscribed with their original graduation date, May 17, along with their caps and gowns and other commemorative items.

The University plans to host an in-person Commencement event next spring, between the Class of 2021 Commencement and Reunion Weekend, if government and public health guidelines permit large crowds to assemble.