Celebrating the Class of 2020

On the morning of Saturday, May 2nd, Nichols celebrated Commencement as usual. Not really. Commencement in the time of COVID-19 has turned into a unique experience for almost every college in the country. It posed a challenge to make this occasion as meaningful as possible to our seniors, their loved ones, and their friends.

While the graduates have been promised an in-person Commencement at a later date, I wanted students to come away from the celebration event feeling recognized, properly honored, and loved. They spent four good years at Nichols, made strong friendships, learned much, and now are headed to success in their chosen careers.

For me, this felt bittersweet. I missed being able to see students in person during the end of the semester and their typical senior week events. Nevertheless, we stayed upbeat and celebratory while still being mindful that we were celebrating in the midst of an international health crisis.

“The disruption you experienced this semester is unprecedented. but can there be a better class number than 2020? I think not,” I intoned on Zoom. “I remember joking about this during our Fall 2016 welcome event. I said that you would be able to look back on your time at Nichols with perfect 20/20 vision. And will you ever.”

This celebration also conjured numbers of the digital kind. At our peak, we had over 750 people around the country and beyond watching live at the same time. By the following Monday morning, we counted nearly 3,000 views. The livestream garnered 150 comments, and across our social media channels, the event resulted in over 168,000 impressions on Saturday alone.

As I reassured the graduates in virtual attendance — in real time or asynchronously, “Think of the story you will tell in the years and decades ahead to your children and grandchildren. With your perfect hindsight, you’ll say, ‘Back in my time, in the Class of 2020, we made history!’”

Yes, we did.

Going Up!

One of my favorite springtime activities is the annual Elevator Speech Competition, for which I serve as a judge and rapt audience member. This year I had to fulfill both roles online for the first time. And, so did the Nichols students who presented via the videoconferencing app Zoom and were streamed live to an audience far from campus.

The Elevator Speech Competition requires students to make their case to a potential employer in about the time it takes that conveyance to reach the higher floors. And at Nichols, it’s become a study in the personal accomplishments, self-awareness, and self-confidence of students reaching for their own career heights.

A majority of the competitors in 2020 were first-year students. They were amazingly poised and articulate. Many talked about adversity they had overcome. All were quite brave giving a speech from their homes via Zoom.

It was hard selecting a winner. For the first time, there were two first place winners. Alex Stroshine, a senior Finance Major and a 4+1 student simultaneously pursuing her master’s degree, focused on the importance of balancing self with others and embracing change. Hannah Vangel, a transfer student and junior psychology major, talked about the importance of a growth mindset and, in accepting her prize, noted how welcoming she has found Nichols since she arrived.

This year’s competition joined other spring semester activities—from the annual academic awards ceremony in April to the Class of 2020 Celebration earlier this month—all taking place virtually. These occasions demonstrated the commitment in all areas of the College to ensure our students stayed connected and had good experiences over the last six weeks of the semester. While not quite as good as being there in person, the events certainly celebrated, honored, and showcased our amazing students.

The 2020 elevator speeches of all participating students now live on YouTube.

Another thing these students have in common: They are all definitely going up!