College to hold virtual baccalaureate ceremony on May 23 for class of 2020

President Alison Byerly said she hopes the virtual baccalaureate is a moment members of the class of 2020 can “pause and celebrate”. (Photo courtesy Lafayette Flickr)

May 23 marks the original commencement ceremony for the class of 2020. While the ceremony has been postponed until Aug. 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Alison Byerly and other members of the college decided it is still important to commemorate May 23 with a virtual baccalaureate ceremony, which will take place at 1 p.m. that Saturday. 

Byerly said that the college is “still moving forward for [commencement on] Aug. 1,” but they recognize the date for the original commencement will still be important for students.

“I think that’s a moment everyone ought to be able to pause and celebrate,” Byerly said.

She added that the virtual baccalaureate is not “in any ways a replacement for commencement,” however.

“Baccalaureate usually stands on its own, but we wanted to share it as a celebration of the class of 2020,”  Melissa Starace, assistant to the President for Board and Community Relations, further explained.

“This is a moment in time that as a community we want to come together. We didn’t want to miss this moment. We wanted to do something to celebrate the class of 2020, and what better day than the day of baccalaureate,” Starace added.

Typically, Chaplain Alex Hendrickson plans the baccalaureate ceremony, and Starace is in charge of commencement. This year, they’re both part of the larger team putting the event together.

“I think because it is a unique situation it’s really important,” Hendrickson said. “We always want these to be special for students. It’s absolutely one of my favorite things to do. So many people are pouring in a lot of love and care because we want this to be special for this class.”

“There’s different ways students have expressed themselves during baccalaureate, whether it’s singing a song or a poem, one year we had a drum circle,” she added. “We will still have a diverse group of seniors speaking. When we moved to this remote instruction, we shifted to this model.”

Lafayette’s baccalaureate is non-denominational and will be open for the entire Lafayette community to virtually “attend”.

“My hope is all graduating seniors and even other students and professors, any member of our community would enjoy watching the service,” Hendrickson said.

Starace said the link for registration for the ceremony will be made available tomorrow, May 11.

“This will be about an hour or so long program,” she said. “It will include President Byerly, [Chaplain Hendrickson], some students who are involved, faculty. We asked seniors to send in photos. We’re trying to make this the best we can.”

There will also be a letter sent out to seniors with information on the event, as well as other seniors activities and logistics including senior tributes, yearbooks, diplomas, portraits, and bookstore information, Starace said.

“We wanted to be able to send something out to read and process and understand that there is a lot happening,” she said. “We’re really excited to have this opportunity with the seniors and to be able to provide [the ceremony for all of them].

In addition to being done remotely, this year’s ceremony will also be different from the usual format, with no “keynote” speaker.

“[We’re] trying to have many different voices represented,” Starace said. “Involving students and faculty and incorporating different mediums, it becomes a production in a way. You have the on-the-ground production, but now the virtual production.”

The students who will participate were nominated by faculty and indicated they were interested in speaking, Hendrickson said. Organizers reached out to the people who indicated they would speak.

“It’s always fun to hear memories students share,” she said. “It’s a send-off. The speeches are touching, inspiring, sometimes humorous.”

Hendrickson added that she is thankful for the communications division, which normally is not involved with the baccalaureate.

“Since it’s online, we do need their experience and expertise when it comes to editing videos,” she said. “I am not a video editor, but thankfully people who are good at those things are able to make it happen for us.”

Hendrickson also emphasized the desire to hold the ceremony on May 23, saying people were looking forward to that day, and they wanted to recognize it as a milestone.

“It’s very meaningful for me to hear [speakers at baccalaureate],” Hendrickson said. “We have so many bright and caring students, so it never gets old.”

“I think it’s one of the greatest honors that we all get to do, coming in as freshmen at convocation and now as the baccalaureate,” Starace added. “It’s a rite of passage.”

About AJ Traub

AJ Traub '20 is the assistant sports editor of The Lafayette. He studies geology and French.

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