Class of 2020 returns to campus for commencement

Graduates enjoyed a weekend of traditional festivities 16 months after formally graduating


Katie Fox / OGB

Aine Pierre, News Editor

On Saturday, 16 months after the fact, the Class of 2020 returned to campus to celebrate their graduation from Wake Forest.

It had been 488 days since the Class of 2020 attended a virtual graduation ceremony and 556 days since then-Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch announced the suspension of in-person classes for the Spring 2020 semester. This weekend, the outdoor ceremony allowed for limited mask-wearing, but with the sweltering September heat, one could have been fooled into thinking it was May 2020 all over again.

The ceremony began at 9 a.m. Saturday. Many students stayed up all night — as is Wake Forest tradition — after a full day of pre-emptive celebrating Friday, which included the customary tour of Wait Chapel’s bell tower and the tunnels underneath the university. 

“It was great to come back and see everybody and remember the relationships that were built,” graduate Elwyn Murray said. “I got to grow and form here, and it was awesome to have everybody back together.”

Hatch was back, too, and he addressed the graduates, advocating for the maintenance of hope in these trying times. The president emeritus argued that, even despite a deadly disease, partisan infighting, foreign policy blunders and the corrosion of trust in our “core institutions” hope can lead the way.

“So often in history, the dawn follows the darkest part of the night,” Hatch said. “Time and time again even in the worst of circumstances actions inspired by courage and hope led to dramatic changes for the better.”

Hatch praised Class of 2020 graduate Isabella Ryan’s efforts to pass a bill banning solitary confinement of juveniles in Tennessee as a prime example of one such action.

“Every member of the Class of 2020 has enormous power and creativity to do good,” Hatch said.

2019-2020 Student Body President Mellie Mesfin took the podium to reframe the event, not as just a delayed commencement, but as something else altogether, something special.

“Now, as we don our regalia, it is not just the final adventure of a whirlwind senior year,” Mesfin said. “It is an intentional commemoration of the time we’ve spent here and who we’ve become.”

Afterward, Mesfin reiterated that she wanted to highlight what made the event special.

“I wanted my speech to be distinct to the fact that it may be a year and a half after we graduated, but it’s still a really special time for us,” Mesfin told the Old Gold & Black. “And it’s utterly unique.”

The event had special significance for graduate Andre Smith, a first-generation college student who is currently applying to medical school.

“It meant a lot, considering all the things that I’ve been through in the past year, to have a ceremony where I could walk across the stage and celebrate with my family,” Smith said. 

Provost Rogan Kersh reminded the Class of 2020 that they always have a home at Wake Forest, but he also recognized that their journey out of the university’s gates was bumpier than most.

“Today, gathered here again, we are a Wake Forest family,” Kersh said. “We will see how you will leave this home again and chase after your adventures. After these five years of preparation, of toil, of trial and victory, you’re ready for what’s to come. You’re ready to step into this moment with courage and resilience and yes, it must be said with the spirit of Pro Humanitate.”

The spirit of new beginnings and hope was not lost on graduate Guanqi Zeng.

“It felt like a new start for me, to formally graduate from undergrad,” Zeng said. “It was big for me and my future.”

Overall, the graduates were grateful that the university did not forget about them.

“They stuck with it to actually make it happen,” Murray said. “That meant a lot to a lot of people.”