Colgate University President Brian W. Casey conferred degrees on members of the Class of 2020 during a virtual ceremony, streamed live from Memorial Chapel on Sunday, May 17. The University’s traditional commencement ceremony has been postponed until the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for physical distancing.
“Universities gather for teaching and for research, and they are gathered and enlivened by friendship, and engagement — for challenges and the resolution of those challenges,” Casey said. “Members of university academic communities also gather for celebration and to mark the completion of one’s studies. This University has done so for over two centuries, and that is why we gather — even in these circumstances — for today’s graduates, this class, to recognize your efforts, celebrate your achievements, and confer upon you your degrees.”
Casey noted that this class was his first as president, the first he met on move-in day, and the first to hear him deliver an address in the chapel. For four years, on good days that were good, harder, complicated, and stressful, they climbed the Hill together.
“Today is a day to mark your achievements, to recognize the paths you took, to honor the ways you climbed,” Casey said. “A day of complications, no doubt — but beyond, far beyond, these complications are your achievements, your work, your walks up this Hill. These are yours always, no matter what.”
Had commencement taken place along the banks of Taylor Lake as originally planned, graduates would also have heard from former United Nations ambassador Samantha Power, now a professor of leadership and public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Instead, Power included a written message in a commencement publication that accompanied diplomas, which were sent to seniors by mail.
“It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges of our time: widening inequality, a rapidly warming planet, debilitating political polarization, and now the most lethal pandemic in a century,” Power wrote. “If you focus on the breadth of what is needed to remedy any one of these problems, you might feel tempted to give up. But if, instead, you set your sights on a small slice of change that is within your power to make, you can leave your mark.”
She encouraged seniors to value vulnerability, thank their teachers, and remember the importance of individual dignity. “Each of us has the power every day to see the people around us. We can show our curiosity. We can ask questions and follow-up questions,” Power wrote. “Most of us are immensely eager to end our isolation — to socialize, play sports, and travel again. But when we resume our fast-paced lives, maybe we can find a way to retain the practice of seeing the person behind the worker who bags our groceries, delivers our mail, or dons scrubs before she heads out to the hospital.”
The commencement package that carried Power’s words was not the only shipment received by graduating seniors. Members of the Parents Steering Committee sent boxes of chocolates from Maxwells and baked goods from Flour & Salt, two local businesses frequented by Colgate students.
Meanwhile, alumni sent messages of congratulations, which were posted on the University’s website. Rockefeller Archive Center Vice President James Allen Smith ’70, who authored Becoming Colgate in honor of the University’s Bicentennial, put the COVID-19 commencement in historical perspective, noting the disruption to commencements endured by past generations during World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.
“When world-shattering events intrude on our placid campus and its academic routines and then scatter us in all directions, we justifiably feel a sense of loss, but it should not diminish your sense of accomplishment, the pride you can take in your hard-earned liberal education and a bachelor’s degree from Colgate,” Smith said. “It has prepared you not just for individual professional lives but also for lives of larger service, whether it’s to community, country, or the world. You are needed.”
Valedictorian: Renee Kimberlin Congdon, Spanish major & English minor
Salutatorian: Jacob Philip Scott, economics major & political science minor
722 undergraduate students recognized
33 earned their degree on Dec. 31, 2019
4 graduate students recognized
523 earned university honors
97 Summa Cum Laude
237 Magna Cum Laude
189 Cum Laude
38 students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa — Watch the ceremony