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Class of 2020: Shepherd University honors 678 graduates with virtual celebrations

By Staff | May 22, 2020

Shepherd University President Mary J.C. Hendrix is featured addressing the Class of 2019 in this file photograph from the school's May 2019 commencement ceremony. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — While Shepherd University’s graduating students from the Class of 2020 have to wait until Oct. 29-30, Homecoming Weekend, to walk across the stage, many of them celebrated their graduation by viewing virtual celebrations last weekend.

This month, 56 graduate students were awarded masters degrees and doctorates, and 622 students received bachelor’s degrees. Letters and videos created by Shepherd faculty and guest speakers were published online to honor the graduating class.

“Graduates, you’re completing your degree after devoting many hours to a goal that I’m sure at times must have seemed beyond the distant horizon,” said Shepherd University Provost and Commencement Committee Co-Chair Scott Beard in a letter written to the Class of 2020. “As the next generation of leaders and innovators, we look forward to seeing how you will contribute your gifts and talents to the world around us, one that so desperately needs them.

“Thank you for allowing me to be one of the many to salute you for all of your amazing academic and personal accomplishments! In the midst of global change, of transitions to online courses, and of canceled celebrations and traditions, we acknowledge your resilience, your strength and your ability to succeed in a world of uncertainty,” Beard said. “Thank you for the privilege of being part of your journey. Now more than ever, you embody the mantra – Shepherd Students Succeed!”

One past example of this mantra, alumna Judee Ann Williams, will be the baccalaureate degree guest speaker and recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. Williams co-founded Shepherd University’s women’s soccer team with Jill Lester, prior to her graduation in 2001 with a B.S. in political science. Currently, Williams is the co-head of CAA Social Impact at leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency. She was named to Glamour Magazine’s 35 under 35 Women to Watch in Entertainment in 2013 and to Variety’s 2019 Power of Women New York Impact List.

While Williams will not receive her honorary degree or be hooded until October, she wrote a letter to challenge the Class of 2020.

“If I could take myself back to where you are today, this is what I wish I would have known sooner: Your higher education is a gift,” Williams said. “I may not have been an exceptional academic student, but I was an exceptional experiential student. So many are not afforded the opportunity of a higher education, so please don’t ever take it for granted.”

The graduate degree guest speaker and recipient of the Doctor of Education honorary degree will be James V. Denova, Ph.D. Denova is the vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and has primary responsibility for the foundation’s education agenda in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. His publications include working papers and journal articles on school-based health services, STEAM education, community colleges and nonprofit management.

As he thought about the postponed commencement ceremony, Denova wrote down some thoughts for this year’s graduate degree recipients.

“We will survive the corona crisis. We will test emergency measures to solve health, social, economic and educational challenges. In many ways, the COVID pandemic is a crucible for how we define our social systems for the future,” Denova said. “The landscape will definitely look different when we come out of this, but now is the time to make sure we ‘do the right thing’ moving forward. You, as fresh graduates of a university with character, will be the architects of the ‘new normal.’ Think deeply about what you want to put into your lives, careers, communities, environment and government to make ‘Post COVID-19’ society a better and more just society.”

Members of the graduating Class of 2020 unable to attend this year’s commencement ceremonies may participate in the 148th commencement ceremony in May 2021. To view the virtual videos, visit www.shepherd.edu/commencement/2020-celebration-videos.