Starting on Wednesday, Aug. 25 until Friday, Aug. 27 Monmouth University delivered on their promise to the student body hosting nine in-person graduation ceremonies in three days.
“It was a lot of work by a lot of people and we were very committed to keeping our word,” said Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement. “We talked about a host of possibilities and we wished we could do something earlier in the summer, but things did not work out that way. When the governor said we could do commencements we explored many options but came back to the idea of smaller ceremonies.”
President Patrick Leahy spoke in all nine of his long-awaited first graduation ceremonies as president of Monmouth University.
“I was so pleased to be able to offer in-person ceremonies for our spring and summer graduates, especially since the ends of their academic experiences were so disrupted by the pandemic,” said Leahy. “The atmosphere in Kessler Stadium, despite the social distancing requirements, was electric. I am grateful to the graduates and their families for their patience and understanding, and I am proud of our staff colleagues for their commitment to our students in making the ceremonies happen.”
There were plenty of faculty and students who had to come together in order to pull these ceremonies together in a short window of time. Eddy Occhipinti, the voice of the Monmouth Hawks, was met with the honor of announcing graduates’ names as they received their diplomas.
“I thought the University’s in-person commencement ceremonies went very well,” said Occhipinti. “I was proud, along with many of my colleagues, to participate in them and help provide what we hope was a meaningful experience for our graduates and their families. As a Monmouth graduate myself, I am always honored to read names at commencement.”
Monmouth sent out a survey in the beginning of summer asking graduating students what their preference was between hosting a virtual ceremony, none at all, or waiting until one could be done in person. The results saw that nearly 66 percent of the graduating class preferred to wait until their achievements could be celebrated in person.
It was not easy however with the state requiring them to stay under 500 people forcing students to choose only two or three people to attend. It made it a much more personal ceremony, but the school remained committed to allowing students to hear from their peers during commencement.
“The class officers were great, and we figured out a way that we could replicate the ceremony with the president, board of trustees, and recognize students,” said Nagy. “It was important for students to hear from their peers with messages from all of their class officers. We did all of the elements.”
Senior class Vice President Amanda DeMatteo was among the class officers who spoke in multiple ceremonies. All of the officers had to split up their speeches in order to allow a peer to speak at every individual commencement ceremony.
“For me, it was truly an honor to speak in front of my class,” said DeMatteo. “I wanted to make them remember the great times they had while at school here. I’ve worked really hard the last four years, and this was the best way to end it, in front of the people who I started with at Monmouth.”
Moving forward it is very possible that some of the graduation measures taken during these unprecedented times could stick around. The feedback was generally positive about the smaller in person ceremonies that did not take as long and were more personal to individual schools.
“We want to bring commencement back to campus and we saw how nice it was to see each school graduate together,” said Nagy. “We will do school-based ceremonies in May again. Hopefully they are bigger in person by then, but we want something more personal and intimate.”
As for the class of 2020, Monmouth delivered on their promise to make an in-person ceremony happen to celebrate their graduates’ achievements. The road does not end here, and the faculty wished the best of luck to their graduates moving forward.
“Don’t give up,” said Nagy. “We did not give up on the idea of having an in-person commencement. They cannot give up on their dreams and visions either. We are very proud of this class and they will demonstrate great resilience. More people need to have a greater sense of resilience because life is tough but this a good lesson in persistence.”
“Class of 2020, we will always remember you for your perseverance,” said Leahy “As I said during the ceremonies, my wish for each of you is that you find fulfillment in your lives.”
PHOTO TAKEN by Anthony DePrimo