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Skidmore College

Skidmore honors graduates during live Commencement

May 30, 2020
by James Helicke

The Skidmore College community came together online to celebrate the creativity and resilience of the Class of 2020, whose final semester was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of graduates, students, family members, alumni and friends from across the globe watched as Skidmore conferred 647 degrees in an unprecedented virtual Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 30. The event was broadcast live from the Surrey-Williamson Inn on Skidmore’s campus, and streamed on Skidmore’s website and social media accounts.

The tribute included many of the usual components of a traditional Commencement ceremony — a touching rendition of Skidmore’s alma mater performed by Emma Berkowitz ’20 and Lindsay Walsh ’20; welcoming remarks by Jinan Al-Busaidi ’20, senior class president; a speech by faculty speaker Jennifer C. Mueller; and greetings from President Philip A. Glotzbach, who invited graduates to rise and move their tassels from right to left, symbolizing the conferring of degrees. 

But this year was also unique: Like educational institutions across the United States and the world, the College suddenly switched to online learning this spring. During the Commencement ceremony, graduates gathered with friends and family members in smaller groups as part of global social distancing efforts to contain the spread of the disease. 

Rather than walk across the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), graduates, many wearing caps and gowns at home, were recognized during a live program. Diplomas were sent out by mail.

Praising the resilience of the Class of 2020, President Glotzbach noted there was no playbook for the pandemic, nor for life.

“We all had to make it up as we went along — rather like trying to keep an airplane flying while making emergency repairs. But you rose to the challenge. Along with so many people at our College, you displayed flexibility, inventiveness, perseverance and creativity,” the president told graduates. “Yours is arguably one of the most resilient classes in the College’s history — perhaps the most resilient one.” 

President Glotzbach

President Glotzbach addressed the Class of 2020 live from campus.

The president, who is retiring at the end of June following a distinguished, 17-year career at Skidmore, wore a medallion commissioned by the Board of Trustees for President Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. in 1987 and designed by the late Earl Pardon, a late professor of art. Evoking history, President Glotzbach spoke of the challenge that this generation faces and, referring to recent events and unrest, called racism “an even greater plague … than COVID-19.”

“Life will present you with myriad new challenges and opportunities along the way, many of which you cannot anticipate at this moment, but you will always be able to call upon what you’ve learned over these past few months, what you’ve proved yourself able to do. Cherish the confidence and celebrate the strength you’ve gained in dealing with this pandemic.”

In addition to the virtual ceremony, Skidmore is also preparing to host an in-person Commencement for the Class of 2020 at a later date.

Various departments and programs also organized a variety of other celebrations for graduates, each of whom also received a celebration box containing gifts, a letter from the president and any honor cords, stoles, Periclean Honors Forum medals, academic prizes or other awards that traditionally would be conferred during Commencement celebrations.

“Despite a widespread pandemic that has crippled the world, we’ve made it. What is typically a cliché statement heard at so many graduation ceremonies around the world every year, ‘we made it’ means so much more to the class of 2020,” said Jinan Al-Busaidi ’20, senior class president. “People have said that the class of 2020 only got 3.75 years together, but in reality, our bond transcends any official graduation date. Although we are not together in person today, we are together in spirit.”

Jennifer Mueller

Jennifer Mueller, associate professor of sociology and director of Skidmore’s Intergroup Relations Program, was selected by the Class of 2020 as faculty speaker.

In her speech, Jennifer Mueller, who was selected by members of the Class of 2020 to speak, discussed the challenges and importance of change.

“All of us, at one time or another, must confront changes that disrupt and disorient and ‘break apart’ our worlds,” said Mueller, associate professor of sociology and director of Skidmore’s Intergroup Relations Program. “Change is a power you hold — to shape not just your world, but the world we all inhabit and share, a world in as deep need of ‘real’ change as ever and people courageous enough to lean in.”

In addition to 437 Bachelor of Science and 209 Bachelor of Arts degrees, Skidmore also conferred the College’s final Master of Arts in Liberal Studies to Anna Taft of Ohio, who completed the degree remotely before the onset of the COVID-19 emergency.

The ceremony was a first for a liberal arts college that prides itself on its strong interpersonal experience on campus. It was organized by a working group of students, faculty and staff, who faced the unexpected task of putting together the College’s first ever online Commencement. The group included student leaders Jinan Al-Busaidi ’20, David Robakidze ’20, Isabelle Bleckner ’20 and Naira Abdula ’20; Associate Dean of Faculty Ronald Seyb; Associate Dean of Student Affairs Mariel Martin; and Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations and College Events Michael Sposili.

Skidmore's three Commencement speakers stand outside the Surrey Inn

Professor Jennifer Mueller, Skidmore College President Philip A. Glotzbach and Jinan Al-Busaidi ’20, senior class president, stand outside the Surrey-Williamson Inn.

You can send your own well wishes to the Class of 2020 by using #Skidmore2020 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can also share your Commencement sentiment using this online form. Posts will be compiled on this website.

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