“Welcome back to campus. Welcome back to that commencement ceremony you couldn’t have in 2020. Welcome back for that in-person event you deserve.”
That’s how Saint John’s University Transitional President James Mullen greeted the roughly 425 members of the Class of 2020 at SJU and the College of Saint Benedict who returned to campus on Saturday, Sept. 11 to take part in their long-delayed in-person commencement celebration.
The total number of graduates on-hand represented more than half of the full 2020 class at the two schools.
And, for many, it marked their first time returning to CSB/SJU since students were sent home in March of 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The class had to complete its remaining coursework remotely, separated and scattered across the state, nation and even the world.
“This is the first time a lot of you have been back on either of these campuses since hurriedly packing your bags in March of 2020,” CSB Transitional President Laurie Hamen said. “A lot has changed since then. But I can tell you with confidence that the heart of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s remains the same.”
That heart shown through during Saturday’s ceremony, including in the remarks delivered by the two students chosen as speakers
“When I first was notified that I was being invited back to speak, I had no idea what I was going to stand in front of you all and say,” CSB student speaker Lauren Simonet told her assembled classmates. “The fact of the matter is the time has come and gone for congratulations. In the 19 months since campus closed, and we were sent home in the middle of March of our senior year, we’ve changed.
“We went from bright-eyed undergrads with a few months of college (still to come) to navigating a postgraduate and pandemic-wrought world as young adults waving a resume in hand.
“But we did it. We graduated.”
Simonet told her classmates to embrace the changes in the world around them, even as some things will always remain constant.
“Once a Bennie or a Johnnie, always a Bennie or a Johnnie,” she said. “Those things never change. The good stuff never does.”
Saint John’s student speaker Owyn Ferguson spoke of the unique challenges he and his classmates have faced finishing college and entering the professional world at the height of a global pandemic.
“Suddenly every plan for the remainder of the school year collapsed,” Ferguson said. “Every postgrad aspiration became insecure and the entire notion of becoming an adult became more jarring than it ever had before.”
But Ferguson praised his class’s resilience in overcoming those obstacles.
“What I find so astounding is that in the face of these difficulties, in the face of hopelessness, and in the face of the worst global health and economic crisis of our lifetime, more than 90 percent of you secured placement in jobs, volunteer corps, military service, graduate programs or even launched your own businesses,” he said.