It’s April. Spring is upon us as the weather slowly warms up. The birds chirp in higher volume and the flowers start to blossom.
This is the time when Castleton University seniors would really begin to start thinking about their next chapter in life, about their bonds with friends that become stronger knowing it’s their final weeks together.
There’s excitement, nerves and lots of goodbyes.
But this year took an expected change of events amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Dorms were packed up in March and students left earlier than expected.
Commencement was moved to next spring, and there wasn’t much closure for the class of 2020.
The Office of Advancement quickly began to think of ways to honor the seniors whose college careers ended unexpectedly. They decided to make a keepsake video allowing students and faculty to share their stories and say their goodbyes.
Castleton University President Karen Scolforo announced the decision in an email to students, faculty and staff last week. She said in the email that “this is not a replacement for commencement, but rather something we want to do as a thank you.”
The email encourages graduating seniors, faculty and staff to submit video messages or photos that will be compiled used to in a larger video project. They are asked to visit the “Celebrating our Seniors” web page on Castleton’s website to submit content before the April 16 deadline.
“My goals for this project are for our seniors to share their most memorable moments at Castleton, and to honor their accomplishments and personal contributions. Every Spartan matters, and every senior has had an impact in our community,” Scolforo said.
James Lambert, the associate dean of advancement at Castleton, also heads the Office of Advancement who will be leading this keepsake video initiative.
“This is a very important project for all of us. All of our students are missing out on things that are important to them. For our seniors, this would have been their last opportunity to experience these things,” he said. “There are so many things to share with the friends, professors, and staff that students have gotten to know over the past four years.”
Faculty are also being encouraged to share their words in the video, an idea that Lambert thought would be important.
“It is important that faculty and staff have an opportunity to participate so they can pass along their congratulations and words of wisdom to the Class of 2020,” he said.
Bill Wiles is a faculty favorite among Castleton students, particularly seniors who have gotten to know him over there time at college.
He’s already written a letter to graduating seniors, and he thinks the video is a good idea to give seniors recognition without waiting until next spring.
“I think it’s a way for the college to have the members of this particular class get their chance to say something before they leave,” Wiles said.
He mentioned that many students would not be able to make a commencement ceremony next spring. The video gives every student a chance to share their words.
“It’s a way to keep the community alive,” he said. “One of the things that was lost when we packed and left on moment’s notice was the idea of the community breaking apart without any kind of opportunity to say goodbye and have those final closure moments, and I think this will allow as many people who want to be able to do that.”
The Office of Advancement will be working with Castleton University alumnus Jake Cunavelis of Mount Mansfield Media to create the video, which is expected to be released on May 16, the day commencement would have been.
“One of the things we’ve been most impressed with has been his ability to draw out the spirit of Castleton University and The Castleton Way. Our culture is so special, and Jake understands why it matters so much to us,” Scolforo said.
It’s safe to say this is a difficult time for everyone involved. Students, faculty and staff are all missing out on many memorable moments due to the pandemic. And those who are left on campus, particularly Scolforo, are saddened by the quietness.
“I miss our students so much, and we all feel robbed of the opportunity to celebrate our 2020 graduates this year. And while we will have this opportunity in a year from now, I believe this project will allow us to show our seniors how much they mean to us, and how proud we are of their achievements,” she said.
“This video project will be something our Spartans can share with their families and friends, something they can hold onto, something special just for them.”