It’s April, and under normal circumstances we would soon be installing the giant white tent, sending programs off for printing, and finalizing the details for our respected speaker—everything to ensure that our annual Commencement ceremony is all that our graduates could hope for. This has always been the highlight of our academic year, something that takes months to plan, something we all look forward to.
This year, the novel Coronavirus changed all of that. Instead, our faculty and students are holding classes remotely, some of our summer conferences have been delayed or canceled, and we are monitoring a rapidly changing environment to ensure the safety of our Castleton community. On top of this, Vermont Governor Phil Scott extended the Stay at Home order to May 15th, and our faculty are hard at work modifying summer courses to offer them remotely. It is in this challenging and uncertain environment that we have to make decisions about this well-deserved celebration of our senior class. We are committed to honoring them properly.
Understandably, our senior Spartans are disappointed. The senior year they planned for and looked forward to was upended and transformed before their eyes. No more spring sports. No more performances. No more club meetings, face-to-face classes, or gathering in Huden Dining Hall, the Coffee Cottage or Fireside Cafe for laughter and conversation. Residential students were asked to depart the residence halls and hunker down at home, where they could be safe while faculty worked hard to transition their courses in one week’s time to ensure students stayed on track with their semester. And, while all this was happening, everyone wondered when and how we would hold Commencement.
We set to work to assess our circumstances and to consider the realities we face. We suspect that even once we return to some normalcy in our lives, we can probably anticipate prolonged restrictions on large groups that may last well into fall. These limitations directly impact a Commencement ceremony. Some suggested that we hold a virtual ceremony, composed of speeches from campus leaders and a designated Commencement speaker. We considered this. We agreed that this direction would send a thoughtful message to our seniors, however we recognized that the purpose of Commencement is to place the honor where it belongs: with our senior class.
While I hold the authority to, I rarely make decisions alone, and this situation was no different. After much discussion and many suggestions, we opted for the proposal by the Dean of Students, Dennis Proulx, to delay until next spring, with the goal of holding a separate, fully-realized Commencement ceremony. We believe this is the only way we can be sure to honor our seniors properly, as they deserve. We also want to recognize the Class of 2020 this year, when they would have been honored at Commencement. The Castleton Advancement Office is working with alumnus Jake Cunavelis from Mount Mansfield Media to produce a special commemorative video for our seniors. The senior video project will highlight the last four years at Castleton, and allow our seniors to share in something special together, something by them for them, something they can hold onto until they come together again. It will be launched on the originally-scheduled Commencement Day, May 16, and will recognize every graduating senior. However, this decision does not preclude us from considering other options and/or more opportunities for celebration in honor of our senior class.
In closing, the Castleton campus is not the same without our students, and our class of 2020 is a special part of this community. Soon these Spartans will be alumni. Their successes are a source of pride for all of us, and I look forward to admiring their accomplishments as they lead us toward a bright figure.