For the University of Lynchburg’s Class of 2020, it was a yearlong wait to walk at Commencement in their caps and gowns with their classmates as family cheered.
Their wait ended with a special celebration Saturday morning on Shellenberger Field. In total, the University honored more than 900 students of the Class of 2020, including 401 undergraduate and 511 graduate students.
Saturday’s ceremony capped three days of Commencement ceremonies divided into five separate events to allow for social distancing.
Dr. Kenneth Garren, former president of the University, was Saturday’s Commencement speaker and spoke on the uniqueness of the class.
“Graduating class, you are unique in the history of this University. Your final year was so exciting and suddenly in the blink of the eye, everything changed,” he said. “COVID-19 appeared and everyone was required to leave the campus. … Most of you probably were never able to say goodbye to your friends, fellow classmates, and professors.”
Garren was president of the University for 19 years when his tenure ended in 2020. He came to what was then Lynchburg College after a career that included work at NASA and at his alma mater, Roanoke College, where he taught mathematics and served as dean. He also served in the military, retiring as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
He recounted for the graduates Saturday the struggle to cope with a new virtual environment caused by the pandemic. In the end, he was proud of how faculty and staff worked together, but especially the students.
“You are unique because you had to respond immediately to something that was happening, not that you had another year to finish your time. You were resilient. Thirty years from now, people will look back at this class and say ‘why did they do so well and achieve so much?’ It will be because of what you have done in your past years,” Garren said.
He advised graduates to reflect on the “special happiness” amid the pandemic, hold onto loved ones, and remember those special moments at Lynchburg.
“So, graduates, travel frequently, become famous, fall in love, and all that other good stuff. Just remember that your home and my home was, is, and always will be right here on this campus at the University of Lynchburg,” Garren said.
Garren was also honored with an honorary Doctor of Education degree during Wednesday’s Baccalaureate, along with his wife and former first lady of the University, Sheila Johnston Garren.
A virtual celebration of the Class of 2020 was offered this time last year with a video message from Sen. Mark Warner, who was to be their Commencement speaker, and conferral of degrees by then-Lynchburg President Garren.
The 2021 Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 was livestreamed and can be viewed online: