St. Scholastica Spring Commencement Goes Virtual, Seniors Look Back on Last Year

While disappointing, not having an in-person commencement doesn't change the fact that they completed four years of college, seniors say.

DULUTH, Minn.- Graduating seniors at the College of St. Scholastica are celebrating the end of their college lives a bit differently than they may have expected: with a virtual commencement ceremony.

This time last year, there was a full gymnasium filled with caps and gowns. “I was homeschooled high school so I never had the ceremony so I was really looking forward to it, I think probably more than some people,” said Keely Jackson.

Now graduation is taking place, on a screen.

“You expect it to be something more than just sitting in your kitchen watching a youtube video,” said Communications Major Mitchell Gertken.

“It’s definitely not sinking in as much as I feel like it would have if we had the big event,” Jackson said.

Just like the second half of the students’ final semester, the spring 2020 commencement ceremony was online.

“It’s a little bittersweet. I mean we left for spring break thinking we’d have like our second half of the semester to come back to but instead had a our last class, last night out with friends, not knowing it was our last,” she said.

From watching the students grow up over the past four years, to watching them deal with life during the pandemic, staff said they are impressed.

“We just really admire the how the students have done,” said Bob Ashenmacher, Executive Director of Communications. “They’ve shown a lot of maturity, a lot of poise, and they’ve reached out when they needed help which is what we’re here to provide.”

The College also took out a full page ad in the Duluth News Tribune with the names of all 850 graduates to honor them. “They were trying to still make this day special kind of help it stand out from the rest of the days cause we’re all kind of stuck at home and it feels just a blur,” Jackson said.

“They put a lot of effort to try to get graduates feeling accomplished which we should,”said Gertken. “It’s still four years at St. Scholastica. I was able to be an honor student, it’s still a good accomplishment, it’s something to be proud of.”

St. Scholastica is inviting spring graduates back in December to walk then. “The president wants to shake their hands and hand them their diploma and look them in the eye and congratulate them so we’re going to try,” Ashenmacher said.

For seniors, not having an in-person commencement when they finish doesn’t define their college career.

“I had wonderful experiences at CSS,” Gertken said. “Like there were things that this pandemic will not damage. and most of my time at CSS it won’t hurt.”

In fact, it causes many to look back at fond memories on campus. “Some of the best stories are wandering around Tower Hall and finding all like the secret little passageways and all the staircases there’s so many secret staircases in Tower Hall,” said Jackson.

They also reflect on the people at CSS that made the experience for them. “I think it would have to be the time I’ve had in theater,” Gertken said. “It’s a lot of people that I’m unable to thank as much as I feel like I should just because they’ve helped me grow to be who I am.”

And some remember the skill-building opportunities they were given.

“The nursing simulation rooms,” said Lexie DeWall. “We got a grant and we got some new stuff this past year so that was pretty cool for the nursing majors to use that stuff.”

DeWall, a nursing major, has a solid but scary future ahead, as healthcare workers nationwide are stretched thin due to Coronavirus.

“I’m nervous and excited at the same time especially because they need us so bad right now,” she said. “I think it makes me even more excited and it just shows how important our major is and our job so I think the world will appreciate us all a bit more after this whole thing.”

But the life post-graduation is not so certain for others. “I had a big focus on theater for my communications degree and all of the theaters are effectively done for the year,” said Gertken.

Jackson, a double major in Communications and Computer Information Systems, looks towards the unknown with excitement. “Yeah it might be harder to get a job, or harder to move places, harder to find new friends since we can’t really meet up with anyone.”

“It’s just another adventure,” she said.

As the CSS campus sits bare, except for the steps outside Tower Hall. With the gigantic old building towering behind, DeWall was still trying to make her day special, taking pictures with her family.

“No one else is going to be able to say a pandemic ruined their ceremony, their grad ceremony so it’s definitely something to remember,” she said.

A large chapter of these students’ lives come to a close. “You realize you still completed everything, you still graduated,” said Jackson.

And at the end of the day, that’s an accomplishment with, or without the ceremony.

“The one day definitely doesn’t define our entire past four years, the past four years is what define my college career,” DeWall said.

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