On Sept. 21, Senior Class President Grant Holt ’22 sent out an email to all second-semester seniors, announcing that Kenyon is planning a separate Commencement ceremony for December graduates on either Dec. 16 or 17, with restrictions on capacity to be determined. However, according to College policy, students will not receive their diplomas at the ceremony as the semester does not end until Dec. 18.
Holt proudly broke the news to the December graduates in his email. “I am not talking about a small dinner in the [Alumni Dining Room],” he wrote, “but rather a full-fledged ceremony with caps and gowns, attended by President Decatur, faculty, and your family, as well as featuring a Baccalaureate Address, remarks from the Senior Class President (me!) and a reception afterwards.”
The College does not typically offer a separate Commencement for second-semester seniors, aside from a dinner honoring the few graduating students. This year, however, is different, as 37 seniors are graduating in December, largely due to circumstances related to the pandemic. Many students were upset with the College’s suggestion that they simply return to walk during the spring Commencement ceremony in May, months after officially graduating.
In particular, some students, such as Katie Stapenhorst ’21, were frustrated by the lack of communication from the College regarding plans for Commencement. Stapenhorst said that she was never told anything — what forms to fill out, what the ceremony would look like or what deadlines to be aware of. “We didn’t officially know that we wouldn’t walk in last spring’s graduation until there was a vague email to all seniors in mid April that specified that you don’t walk until all course requirements are completed — which is understandable, but truly should have been communicated earlier,” Stapenhorst wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Even now with the recent announcement, I know people who have already had to reschedule holiday plans, which could have been avoided with just a little bit more notice.”
Recognizing the significance of Commencement, Holt made it his mission to ensure the students had a proper ceremony. He met with Student Council Vice President for Academic Affairs Delaney Gallagher ’23 in early September to brainstorm how they could hold Commencement. “We knew that, realistically, very few of these seniors would be able to come back to campus [for spring Commencement],” Holt wrote in an email to the Collegian. “As a result, these seniors would never be recognized as graduates, and their Kenyon careers would end on a whimper. Delaney and I refused to accept that, and so we started planning.”
The two reached out to Howard Grier, Kenyon’s director of campus events, to express their desire to schedule a ceremony. According to Holt, Grier’s response was very positive; they quickly began discussing the logistics of coordinating the event.
Alasia Destine-DeFreece ’21 was happy with the College’s decision, as it will be a proper conclusion to her Kenyon experience. “While it was great to support my friends who graduated last May, I didn’t have plans to come back and walk with the Class of 2022 because I felt like the Kenyon chapter of my life would be over after graduating,” she said. “I no longer feel like I have to choose between regretting not graduating last May and walking next May when I’ll feel like I’m backtracking. The hardest part of watching my friends in the Class of 2020 not get their own Commencement was seeing the complete lack of closure they felt entering their post-Kenyon lives, and I’m really grateful to be getting that closure.”
Editor-in-Chief Linnea Mumma ’22 contributed to reporting.