Like other universities across the country, Elon University’s class of 2020 was unable to hold an in-person commencement ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after a year and a half of planning, the class of 2020 will return to campus for the long-awaited event on Sept. 5 Under the Oaks.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing those people that I was supposed to graduate with, but more importantly, I’m looking forward to seeing the professors that I never got to say goodbye to,” Katie Heit ’20 said.
Heit, along with class of 2020 president Noor Irshaidat, will be part of the commencement ceremony and bring the class together after almost two years of waiting to walk across the stage.
“It was so easy to remember those moments that I shared with people, all the people who left a mark on my life,” Irshaidat said.
The weekend ahead
Graduation is set to take place at 9:30 a.m. Under the Oaks, a change that was made from the original location of Schar Center as a preventative measure due to COVID-19 policies and the number of visitors coming to campus.
All participants are required to wear masks at the outdoor Commencement ceremony because the CDC recommends wearing them outdoors in crowded settings. Masks were required at New Student Convocation for the same reason but many of those in attendance did not comply.
Going into Sunday’s event, the university will be putting additional signage in place around the venue and there will be multiple announcements over the PA system about the mask requirement to help ensure those in attendance are aware of the mask policy.
A university spokesperson said they are “optimistic that alumni and their guests visiting campus this weekend will respect the policies in place at Elon to help protect the health and safety of members of the campus community.”
The university is also encouraging but not requiring all in attendance to be vaccinated.
As the class of 2020 president, Irshaidat played a major role in planning the commencement. She and other members of the SGA were able to organize the event by “keeping in touch with each other, knowing what the expectations are and what [they] really can do to meet those expectations.” The commencement weekend also includes a cumulative effort of many offices, including that of the President, Academic Affairs, Student Life and University Advancement.
Throughout the weekend, several events honoring the class of 2020 will be taking place.
On Sept. 3, department open houses and Dean’s receptions are also taking place throughout the afternoon across campus.
On Sept. 4, the Lavender Graduation ceremony will honor the achievements of LGBTQ graduates. The Donning of the Kente ceremony is a cultural one that celebrates the achievements of students who recognize their African heritage. The Elon Phoenix football team is taking on the Wofford Terriers in a home opener set for 2 p.m. Saturday, with a class of 2020 family tailgate at Lake Mary Nell before the game.
With the Commencement ceremony now taking place Under the Oaks, the Class of 2020 Celebration on Sept. 4 will now be held in the Lambert Academic Village.
A brunch for the class of 2020 will be held on Sept. 5 immediately following the ceremony at Lake Mary Nell.
Coming back to campus
According to Vice President for Academic Affairs Provost Aswani Volety, the university always intended to have a formal ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of the students, it was just a matter of finding an appropriate time. Volety said graduation ceremonies are important for both students and parents in the Elon community.
“Students work really hard to get to that stage,” Volety said. “Education is one of the most expensive efforts that the parents have invested in you and for you.”
The virtual commencement ceremony in 2020 was held via Zoom, but most of the graduate programs were able to gather in person because of small class sizes.
During the ceremony, graduates will have an opportunity to be photographed without masks and will receive their oak saplings instead of their diplomas.
Heit, who will be singing the National Anthem at commencement this weekend, said she looks forward to being back on campus and seeing old and new faces.
“I think it’s going to be a really big full circle moment,” Heit said. “I think it’s going to be honestly very emotional, but give us the closure that I and my classmates really need.”
While it took monthly meetings and hours of planning, Irshaidat says that she and the class of 2020 are thrilled to return to campus and celebrate their achievements.
“Seeing the people is what I’m looking forward to the most,” Irshaidat said.
Volety said he, along with the faculty of Elon University, firmly believe the importance of celebrating the graduates’ achievements, even if it takes having a virtual ceremony first and months of planning thereafter.
Irshaidat said some graduates are not returning because of health concerns and conflicting schedules. Though not all students will be in attendance, Irshaidat said that these absent classmates will be in the class of 2020’s thoughts.
“The school has done a great job at making sure they’re accommodating those differences in opinion and how comfortable people are coming back,” Irshaidat said. “Those who aren’t [coming] are definitely in our hearts and minds.”
Further information and updates can be found on the Commencement website.
Ellis Chandler contributed to the reporting of this story.