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Back to the cap and gown: Shepherd University holds in-person, socially distanced commencement ceremonies

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | May 14, 2021

Shepherd University Student Government Association President Taylor Seitzinger congratulates her fellow graduates during the Baccalaureate Ceremony in the Butcher Center Saturday morning. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Saturday morning, Shepherd University held its 148th Commencement with two in-person, socially distanced ceremonies. Held in the Butcher Center, the day began at 9 a.m. with the Master’s and Doctoral Graduation Ceremony, followed two hours later by the Baccalaureate Convocation.

While the morning was one of rejoicing, it was also one of memory, as the ceremonies were dedicated in honor of former SU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Scott Beard, who passed away unexpectedly on March 28.

“I am so delighted to see all of you in person! This is going to be a great celebration,” said SU President Mary J.C. Hendrix at the beginning of the Baccalaureate Convocation. “Today’s convocation is being held in honor of Scott Beard. . . . He was passionately committed to helping students succeed, and his legacy will continue through your achievements.”

Hendrix also recognized the significance of the Baccalaureate Ceremony, as it was held for both graduates from the 2020-2021 year, as well as for previous semesters when an in-person ceremony could not be held, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“On behalf of the board of governors, faculty and staff of the university, it is my great pleasure to congratulate you, our students, on a job well done, and warmly welcome you to Shepherd University’s Baccalaureate Convocation ceremony for summer 2020, fall 2020 and spring 2021 degree recipients. To your families and friends, I welcome you virtually to our convocation ceremony,” Hendrix said, referring to the fact that the convocation attendees could not have in-person guests.

Shepherd University seniors attended graduation without parents, professors or other guests. Later in the day, individual departments hosted smaller ceremonies for graduates to receive diplomas. Toni Milbourne

Due to the smaller number of graduates at the Master’s and Doctoral Graduation Ceremony, each graduate was able to invite a couple of friends or family members to attend in-person. Doctor of Education Honorary Degree Recipient and Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson recognized, after receiving her degree, the significance of the in-person event.

“I am absolutely, enormously grateful to be here in front of you today, at the first live graduation in more than two years!” Gibson said, as the ceremony’s speaker. “There are, across this nation, hundreds of thousands of students like yourselves, who have worked, who have struggled, who have sacrificed, who will never know what it’s like to have a live graduation. So I think it’s testament to the care and concern of the Shepherd University staff, that we get to enjoy the presence of one another today.”

Retired SU football team head coach and SU Hall of Fame inductee Monte Cater spoke as the Baccalaureate Convocation speaker, after receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Cater advised the graduates with wisdom based on his career experience.

“You can’t say all athletics and real life are the same, but we do share some of the same . . . obstacles and challenges,” Cater said. “Through the pandemic and things you’ve accomplished, the obstacles that you’ve overcome, I just want to congratulate you on a job well done. You need to be proud. I know Shepherd’s proud of you, and I want you to go ahead and understand that we want nothing but the best for you. We want to congratulate you. Go Rams!”

Shepherd University President Mary J.C. Hendrix introduces Baccalaureate Convocation ceremony speaker Monte Cater in the Butcher Center on Saturday morning. Courtesy photo