In a ceremony that reunited students who had been studying on and off campus throughout an extraordinary year, The College of Wooster celebrated the Class of 2021 in an in-person celebration at John P. Papp Stadium Saturday morning, May 8, 2021. Graduates made the traditional walk through Kauke Arch while guests watched the livestream and “smiled extra bright behind their masks” for those who were unable to attend in person as Stachal Harris ’21, one of the speakers from the class said in her remarks. Students who were unable to attend in person were acknowledged in absentia along with their classmates. A total of 453 degrees were conferred in an outdoor ceremony with friends and family.
“We are gathered to celebrate this wonderful class at a historic moment, after a year of extraordinary suffering and loss around the world,” said President Sarah Bolton in her opening address, acknowledging that the meaning of this year’s celebration is different for everyone. “You have persevered through tremendous difficulty in your final year as students and through it all, you have done marvelous work, you have strengthened our community, and you have added to the world’s understanding through your independent study. And we celebrate you, Class of 2021, because of who you will be and because of the impact you will make throughout your lives.”
Speakers for the class, Harris, a political science major from Phoenix, Arizona; Saeed Husain ’21, an anthropology major from Karachi, Pakistan; and Austrella Beverly Balley ’21, a political science major from St. Louis, Missouri; shared their thoughts at the end of a senior year at Wooster none of them had anticipated. Contrary to the idea of being caught in a “Wooster bubble,” Husain said that at Wooster he found himself “surrounded by people who wanted him to succeed,” and challenged his class to “take the values that we learned” and “expand that bubble to the world around us.” Inspired by the famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr., he encouraged them to “fight for justice, everywhere, and keep each other in mind as we tackle the challenges of our world.” When Harris took the stage, she asked her classmates to “let out a scream” if they’d “changed majors from what they intended and were happy they did,” “made a dynamic relationship here, whether a friend, partner, or mentor,” or “felt like a completely different person today than they were four years ago when they started out at Wooster.” All three speakers spoke of the ways Wooster had changed them and inspired them throughout their time at the College.
Acknowledging the challenges they faced during the pandemic, Balley said, “We are the Class of ’21. The bounce back, was real for us. … We found ways to stay connected, collaborate, and keep our independent minds working together. … I know the Class of 2021 will not fold at the site of adversity, yet we find ways to adapt and excel at what is expected of us.” The exceptional ability to excel after their experiences in the past year is what keynote speaker Anita Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at University of Pennsylvania Law School—known for her work on philosophical dimensions of privacy and data protection law, ethics, bioethics, legal philosophy, women’s rights, and diversity in higher education—encouraged of the class in her address. “It’s a tall order, but perhaps not too tall for a graduating class that’s already proven it to metal by completing college in uniquely trying times. I believe you’ve got this,” she said, calling on them advocate for these values.
Saturday’s ceremony also featured an invocation led by Wooster Trustee Anne Wilson ’73, a live vocal performance from Angela Hiawobea Danso Gyane ’21, and a video performance of the Wooster Chorus including current members and alumni directed by Lisa Wong, associate professor and chair of music at Wooster. In the video, students on campus were joined by students studying remotely as well as alumni ranging from the classes of 1955 through the Class of 2020 in singing “The Road Home” by Stephen Paulus. Graduates bumped elbows with President Bolton as they walked across the stage, and Christine A. Farrell ’94, president of the Wooster Alumni Association welcomed the graduates as alumni, reminding them of the connections they built at the College and their importance as they go forward. Rev. David Rice, a member of the College Board of Trustees and pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Wooster, gave the closing benediction and send off to seniors as “future bearers of Wooster’s Tartan tradition.” After the traditional recession led by the Wooster Pipe Band, graduates, community members, and families enjoyed the opportunity to gather together safely after the year apart.