Jewell celebrates class of 2020 with in-person graduation ceremony

On Sept. 12, William Jewell College hosted a socially-distanced commencement convocation for the graduated class of 2020 on Greene Field. Due to COVID-19, the graduation ceremony was unable to take place on its typical date in May.

Graduated members of the class of 2020 had the chance to return to campus with two invited guests for commencement. The traditional final Walk Around the Quad took place at 8:45 a.m. before commencement started at 9 a.m. Only ticket holders were allowed to be in attendance. A livestream of the commencement ceremony was available on YouTube and can now be watched in its entirety.

Susan Arbo, interim associate director of annual giving and director of ceremonies & signature events, described the planning process for the in-person graduation.

“[On] July 9, Operation Safe Campus and the Cabinet determined that we needed to amend the usual plan to include an outdoor graduation ceremony only in Greene Stadium, eliminating Baccalaureate and other gatherings from the schedule that could pose a risk to our community.  Walk Around the Quad was held but only the Platform Party was in attendance; all guests were seated in the stadium,” said Arbo.

A total of 112 graduates signed up to attend commencement, but some dropped out between signing up and graduation. One hundred graduates ultimately walked the stage.

“Because no [current] students and a limited number of faculty and staff were to be involved, the only faculty in attendance were the six Senior Marshals – Alan Holiman (who has served as Head Senior Marshal 11 times since 2006), Blane Baker, Fletcher Cox, Debbie Chasteen, Jeanine Haistings and Nathan Wyman. Instead of Cardinal Hosts, about 25 staff members from Advancement, Admission and Student Life prepared the stadium, the honorees and the students for the ceremony and served as ushers for the guests. Only a handful remained for the ceremony itself,” Arbo said. 

In addition to limiting the number of guests, faculty and staff present at graduation, additional COVID-19 precautions included mask requirements and distancing.

“All graduates and their guests were required to wear masks on campus and were asked to leave the campus by 12:15 p.m. All guests had assigned seating in the bleachers and graduates’ chairs were spaced 6’ apart on the field and track. The procession was lined up on Mississippi Street instead of Gano Chapel. After the ceremony, the grads and their guests could take photos on campus and meet with current students outdoors,” said Arbo.

“Just after 7:00 a.m., as the custodians had finished drying all the chairs for the grads and the bleachers for the guests from the night’s dew, a fine drizzle of rain came down for about seven minutes and everything had to be dried again before the signs could be taped on all the seats,” Arbo continued. “But after that, it was a glorious morning to celebrate the Class of 2020. The 9:00 a.m. ceremony finished at 10:15 a.m. and everyone gathered on the field for photos and farewells. It was beautiful.”

Arbo described that the general reaction to the commencement ceremony has been positive. Participants in the ceremony seemed excited to participate and have the chance to celebrate graduates and their accomplishments.

Ian McBride, ’20, shared his experience of the event and how he believes parents appreciated the in-person event.

“Honestly [having the in-person ceremony] made everyone’s parents super happy and I think it gave me and others closure… The only odd thing was that neither the grads [nor] guests were [temperature-checked] presumably so everyone could walk and witness, but it still was not what [the College] said would occur or what Jewell policy states. The final thought I had was it was odd that the parents couldn’t go to the final walk around the Quad but that after the ceremony everyone was free to roam wherever for photos,” McBride said.

Dr. Elizabeth Macleod Walls, president of the College, shared her experience of the ceremony.

“It was more gratifying than I can say to see our 2020 graduates back on The Hill for our Commencement Convocation. Waiting until we were two weeks into the semester allowed us to ensure that our campus was prepared and as safe as possible. When our graduates walked across the stage, we had no active [COVID-19] cases on campus—and we were careful to adhere to all of our Operation Safe Campus protocols before, during and after the ceremony,” said MacLeod Walls.

Arbo explained that a total of 160 devices logged in to watch the livestream of the ceremony. She is confident even more people will watch the recordings of both the ceremony and the Walk Around the Quad after being posted to the website. All graduates unable to attend the ceremony will receive copies of the program.

Karen Daniel, retired executive director, chief financial officer and president of the Global Finance & Technology Solutions division for Black & Veatch, gave the commencement address. Jeremy Hofman, ’20, was the senior elected to speak at commencement.

Hofman described his experience of the day.

“Overall, I really enjoyed the day. It was great to be back on campus, and while I thought a socially-distanced graduation with minimal guests would be a bummer, it actually felt a lot like a normal graduation. I definitely think it was worth it, a virtual graduation would’ve been underwhelming. The main thing that was a bit disappointing was the fact that I only got to see friends for a couple hours, if that, and then had to turn around and say bye again. It was also disappointing that we couldn’t see most of our professors. But, it was really good to see the faculty and staff members who were a part of it, and it was clear it meant a lot to them to give us a real graduation,” Hofman said.

“In my speech, I wanted to talk about some of the things that were unique to our class, and then explain some of the ways I thought Jewell prepared me to handle a massive change like the pandemic,” Hofman continued. “Our class has seen a lot of change at Jewell, and the ability to accept change and move forward is an under appreciated lesson we learn at Jewell.  I really just wanted to tell my classmates that we all have a lot to be proud of!”

MacLeod Walls commented on the speeches and the College’s conferral of honorary degrees.

“The messages from Karen Daniel and Jeremy Hofman acknowledged the unique moment, and charged the graduating class with embracing this opportunity for meaningful change. We were pleased to confer Honorary Doctorates on Leo Morton and Dave Cummings, advancing an important Jewell tradition even during exceptional times. I am especially grateful to the staff who worked hard behind the scenes to manage all of the logistics associated with the event. It was a great day to be a Cardinal!,” said MacLeod Walls.

Arbo concluded by thanking all of those involved in giving the class of 2020 their commencement ceremony.

“I am very grateful to the faculty and staff who volunteered to give the Class of 2020 and their parents some much needed closure and to create terrific memories for them! It was a GREAT day to be a Cardinal!” said Arbo.

Photos courtesy of

Catherine Dema

Catherine Dema is the page editor for Features & Investigations on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and physics.

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