Section: Features

Class of 2020 finds creative ways to celebrate graduation

When Kenyon announced that it would conduct classes online for the rest of the school year, many seniors were disappointed that their time on the Hill had come to a premature end and that they would miss definitive events like Summer Sendoff and Senior Week.

Although the College will hold a virtual Commencement on May 29 and an in-person ceremony at a later date, many students found ways to celebrate their graduation off-campus with their families. The Collegian spoke with three of these seniors in the week leading up to the ceremony originally scheduled for this past Saturday.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Harper Beeland ’20 had not expected to spend graduation day with his parents, as his younger sister’s high school graduation was scheduled for the same date.

“My parents called me and [said they didn’t] want to have to make [us] choose,” Beelandsaid. “I was like, ‘I mean, I’ve already had a high school graduation, so I guess you should just go to hers.’”

Instead, his parents had planned to visit campus the weekend before Commencement and set up a canopy tent outside of his North Campus Apartment, where they were going to invite Beeland’s friends to share a meal with them.

When they learned that Commencement would no longer occur on campus as planned, the family decided to pitch the tent in their driveway in Chattanooga, Tenn. on the day of graduation instead. They celebrated with a charcuterie board and drinks while waving to a few family friends, who had driven by to congratulate Beeland and his sister.

Although he is frustrated to be graduating without the company of his friends, Beeland is glad to have spent the weekend with his family. “I get to have somebody say ‘congratulations’ to me, [which] just makes it feel more fruitful that I’m finishing my last semester of college,” Beeland said. “It’s something tangible to show for it.”

While Beeland had a substitute graduation with his family, Vahni Kurra ’20 celebrated away from hers. When at first it was believed that Kenyon would resume classes on campus in April, Kurra’s parents, who live far from Kenyon in Rapid City, S.D., initially thought it would be a good idea for her to stay with family friends, Scott and Nancy, in Columbus. When Ohio enacted a stay-at-home order, however, her stay at the couple’s house extended indefinitely. Last week, in anticipation of graduation, Scott and Nancy ordered a celebratory sign to put in their front lawn.

“It was really touching,” Kurra said. “It came in the mail and I was like, ‘What is this?’ And then I opened it up and I was like, ‘Oh, so sweet!’”

On Saturday, Kurra, Scott and Nancy held a small celebration and invited Vahni’s friend from high school to spend some time with her on the porch. In addition to FaceTiming her parents later that evening, upon Kurra’s request, the middle-aged couple agreed to play beer pong with her.

“I was really shocked [that they agreed],” she said. “I was like, ‘This is gonna get a hard ‘no.’ [But] Scott was like, ‘You know what? Let’s do it. Let’s finish college right.’”

Haley Witschey ’20, who is also spending the quarantine in Ohio, decided to journey back to Gambier this Saturday with her parents, three year old niece and three sisters to order takeout from the Village Inn and have a picnic and champagne by the Kokosing. Afterwards, she and her niece swam in the river. “It was freezing in the water, but she loved it,” Witschey said.

Although she sometimes experiences waves of sadness about missing out on a traditional graduation experience, Witschey is trying to make the most of the situation. “I think just graduating now is so weird for all of us across the country—across the world,” she said. “We’re gonna go down in history at least.”

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