As folks like to say at the University of Lynchburg, Thursday, May 20, was a “great day to be a Hornet.” The sun was shining, the sky blue, and the air temperature was a bit like Goldilocks’s porridge: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
Earlier this morning, under these pristine conditions, Lynchburg’s Class of 2021 graduated at Shellenberger Field. The athletic field, with its brand-new video board, was a new site for Commencement, which is usually held on the grassy, tree-filled Dell in front of Hopwood Hall.
Also, to allow for social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were two separate ceremonies. At 9 a.m., Commencement exercises were held for the Lynchburg College of Arts and Sciences. A ceremony for the College of Business, College of Health Sciences, and College of Education, Leadership Studies, and Counseling followed at 11:30 a.m.
All told, 441 undergraduates — 204 Bachelor of Arts and 237 Bachelor of Science — received their diplomas. The graduates came to Lynchburg from across the U.S., as well as from Nigeria, Spain, and Guatemala.
After the invocation, Student Government Association President Davion Washington Jr. ’21, a Westover Honors Fellow from Charlotte, North Carolina, addressed the graduates. He reflected on time and how the past four years flew by. He recalled moments he’d never forget: all-nighters in Schewel, classes loved and others that “weren’t exactly our niche,” friends made, and “storms we braved.”
He concluded that “those feelings, those moments, those intrinsic tools of measurement … will reside within us forever.”
Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, in her first Commencement as Lynchburg’s president, also spoke to the graduates. She admitted to ending her first year with “mixed emotions” and a “bit of sadness,” but also with “great feelings of hope and optimism for what this day and the days and months ahead will bring.”
She acknowledged that everyone has been through a lot over the past 14 months, and not only because of COVID-19.
“These are extraordinary times,” she said. “A pandemic that turned our lives upside down, political and racial turmoil that have rocked the very foundations of our republic, and an uncertain economy that makes the thought of entering the world daunting, to say the least.”
Morrison-Shetlar spoke of the day in March 2020 when classes went online, the challenges of learning and working remotely, and the heartache that many have felt, losing loved ones and friends.
In the face of these struggles, she said, the response of the Class of 2021 “has been nothing short of miraculous. … You persevered, you thrived, and today, you graduate. This is the first day of the rest of your lives. Live it well and continue to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Morrison-Shetlar went on to talk about lessons she learned during the pandemic and she emphasized the three pillars of her administration: servant leadership; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and innovation and collaboration. She encouraged the graduates to build on these pillars as they move on with their lives.
She talked about individual 2021 graduates, their achievements and triumphs over adversity, and the numerous Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championships won this year by Lynchburg’s student-athletes.
“So look around you,” she said. “Behind every one of those masks is a unique story of adaptability, courage, determination, happiness, hope, caring, and leadership. What will your story be? I cannot wait to find out.
“When you began your journey together, you shared the notion that you could turn your passions into purpose, that you could change the world. Well, the time has come. I wish you a passionate and purposeful life and I hope that you will stay connected and remain engaged in the life of your University — your home forever.”
Both Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021 were livestreamed and can be viewed online: