BEMIDJI -- While few things about the Bemidji State University class of 2020 graduate recognition ceremony were traditional, some things remained constant as the 101st class of BSU graduated Friday.
An address was given by the university president and graduate names were listed, as the age-old graduation tune, "Pomp and Circumstance," played in the background.
While it wasn’t technically commencement, as one will be held in-person later -- the sentiment was there.
The event, which students and families were able to join live on Facebook, began with a slideshow of memories from the year, while the Bemidji State University song played in the background. BSU President Faith Hensrud addressed the graduates, as did U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra.
Ordinarily, Sen. Klobuchar wouldn’t attend BSU commencement festivities, but the commute is much more manageable via Zoom.
Deans, staff and faculty appeared in video-form, many sending their well-wishes to graduates from home office webcams, or with virtual backgrounds of the university buildings they’d ordinarily occupy.
Instead of being read aloud, graduate names scrolled by while the graduation tune played. The listing of the 1,008 graduates took about 20 minutes. More than 560 people participated in the live event, which has now had almost 9,000 views.
President Hensrud acknowledged the loss students may be feeling due to the strange circumstances, and told them faculty members are feeling the same way.
“Clearly, as we gather here this evening on Zoom, this is not the way we had hoped to celebrate this momentous occasion with you,” she began. “I wish we had spent this afternoon together in the Sanford Center, I wish I could be looking out now at hundreds of you in your caps and gowns, enjoying the energy of your friends and families and loved ones in the audience.”
Hensrud assured graduates that BSU intends to host an in-person commencement at some point in the future, and said information regarding this would be shared as soon as possible.
She pointed out the ways that through this pandemic, students have become more resilient and bonded closer together as a class.
“You now know that you can respond to and succeed under conditions of adversity. You know you can face the unknown and still find success. And you know how to keep your focus and stay the course during an extraordinary time in our nation’s history, these are lessons that will serve you the rest of your lives.”
Sen. Klobuchar addressed BSU students via Zoom from her home, acknowledging by name several accomplishments of graduates in the class of 2020.
“I know it is isolating, but it doesn’t in any way take away all of your achievements and what you are celebrating today," she began. "So, to the graduates, the class of 2020, congratulations.”
She said she knows BSU students are well prepared to face the world in 2020, based on the accomplishments already achieved by many students in this graduating class.
“I’ve seen the business and accounting students who are offering free tax help to their neighbors who need a little assistance,” she said. “The leaders who launched the Black Student Union, your classmate, Anna, who won statewide recognition for her videos recognizing Minnesota’s solar energy initiative or how Bemidji State undergraduate students had the chance to present their original research on such an amazing group of topics.”
She acknowledged that for many BSU students, graduating college may have seemed like an insurmountable task. Over 50% of students at BSU are first-generation college students, according to the BSU website.
“I know that for many of you, it’s been a long journey. Some of you are the first person in your family to graduate from college, some of you have had to balance jobs, families and other responsibilities in order to get your degree, and all of you had to overcome obstacles to get where you are today,” she explained. “You’re proof that hard work, persistence and a supportive network truly can change peoples’ lives.”
Klobuchar went on to describe the value of an education and tried to demonstrate how a college education can help to achieve a position like hers. Her grandfather was an iron ore miner, her mother a teacher, and herself, the first woman senator in Minnesota, she said.
The new graduates’ situation is similar to a baseball game that has been affected by poor weather conditions, Klobuchar remarked, but yet is still winnable.
“You’re in one big rain delay,” she said, “and this is the toughest time we’ve had since the Great Depression, way, way long ago.”
"While the graduates are heading into a bleak and uncertain job market, they are set to become the heroes on the frontlines," she said. “We’re seeing our heroes on the frontlines saving lives, healthcare grocery stores, bus drivers, and now, all of you.”
Klobuchar ended her speech by giving the graduates a mission: to remember that courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear, citing Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“That’s your life’s mission,” she said. “That’s what’s more important than fear.”
Virtual celebration aids
Students were given a few additional unique ways to celebrate digitally. Free social media frames, which can be added to profile pictures on Facebook are available to graduates on the BSU website.
Graduates were also encouraged to post photos with the hashtag #BeaverGrads to their social media profiles. Photos posted to Instagram and Twitter with this hashtag will be compiled into a large virtual mosaic, which is currently available to be viewed at the BSU website. Submissions for photos are open through May 22.