BVU’s ‘virtual commencement’ a study in perseverance, service
Buena Vista University conducted a commencement “unlike any other” in the 129 year history of the institution. Unable to have a ceremony on the campus that has been shut down to COVID-19 concerns, BVU posted a virtual commencement online video Saturday.
Interim BVU President Brian Lenzmeier, clad in cap and gown for the occasion, spoke to the students, saying that the university fervently hopes to be able to repeat the commencement face-to-face, with full pageantry and emotion, when conditions allow. Such an event would include the traditional celebratory walk through the Victory Arch to the tune of bagpipe music - “a celebration you have truly earned.”
Chaplain Melanie Hauser also touched on a senior year made unique by coronavirus. “We wonder on this graduation day what our future will bring… this winter many of our graduates were certain they had promising futures as artists, teachers, physicians and leaders in our community. This past spring has brought uncertainty.”
The pandemic forced BVU to close its Storm Lake facilities in March, President Lenzmeier recapped for the seniors, “sending many of you from our beloved lakeside campus, forcing you to adapt to new learning expectations.”
Some had to take on the role of being student, parent and teacher in their homes during quarantine as they finished their studies online.
Yet the class achieved its degrees, representing many years of hard work for an “incredibly accomplished” crop of grads, he said. “While far from ideal, you all persevered. You kept soaring academically while contributing to your communities in many new ways. I am both comforted and proud of the reliance you showed.”
He suggests the new graduates are prepared for a world “that needs your empathy, your determination, your enthusiasm, your curiosity, your creativity and your willingness to live for BV’s motto of ‘Education for Service.’”
Joshua Cole, BVU Senior of the Year and 2019-20 Student Senate President, also spoke to fellow members of the class by video.
While the class faced enormous challenges, its members made great memories and even greater friendships, he said. Each student had a unique story about how and why they came to BVU, Cole’s involving a drive from Alaska in hope of a career in college athletics.
“I want to challenge each and every one to use education to serve, empower and transform the communities you live in,” he said, stressing that a key is to “live humble” and overcome pride in order to empower others.
“Some of you have had a tougher road and have pushed through things I have never dreamed of dealing with,” he said. “With the recent events that have further escalated tensions in our country, it is even more important that we examine the different privileges we have and use them to help others. When we stop focusing on ourselves, something incredible happens.”
While the graduates won’t feel they can change the world on their own, even a small action by one person can begin a domino effect of impact, Cole said.
He remembered receiving a card from a former international student - a person he had never really met and whose name he didn’t even know. She had told him in the card that he had been an important person in her life because he had bothered to smile when they passed in the university hallways.
“Don’t think you don’t have the ability,” to impact others, he told classmates, while sharing a challenge. “You have a chance to take what we have learned into the world and transform it. Class of 2020, we did it - now what are you going to do with it?”
President Lenzmeier noted that more than 3,400 alumni have graduated from BVU over its history. Like those before them, the latest class will have to decide which opportunities to accept and which to reject. “I encourage you to follow the path that will add value and quality to your life and to the community in which you live,” he said.
He cited the class for changing its university in some ways, including rallying for student-athlete Canyon Hopkins, who passed away from cancer after a courageous fight. “Maybe a Beaver one day will discover a cure,” he said.
Unable to hold their usual Buenafication Day to work to improve the campus, parks and attend to other local projects, they instead took on efforts in their home communities during quarantine.
The graduates will be tasked with feeding growing work, educating children, building and programming, connecting generations, making music, protecting and serving, and creating new inventions, he said.
During the commencement, the university also paid tribute to two retiring educators, Swasti Bhattacharyya, professor of philosophy and religion; and James Hampton, professor of biology. Between them, they gave 44 years of service to the university and left an indelible mark on the institution, Lenzmeier said.