Barry McNamara  |  Published October 24, 2021

‘There is No Substitute for the Real Thing’

Closure, home themes of in-person Commencement celebration for Class of 2020.

Members of the Monmouth College Class of 2020 celebrate during their commencement ceremony, held ... Members of the Monmouth College Class of 2020 celebrate during their commencement ceremony, held Sunday morning in the Huff Athletic Center. A total of 59 members of the Class of 2020 participated in the ceremony, which was held during the College's Homecoming 2021 weekend.MONMOUTH, Ill. – There’s never been a Commencement ceremony quite like it.

Members of Monmouth College’s Class of 2020 can say that not once, but twice.

In May of 2020, the milestone day of their Monmouth experience was celebrated by the College. But it did not happen in person because it took place in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a virtual ceremony recognized the class.

One of the videotaped speakers that day was Hadley Smithhisler, the College’s 2019 Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, who told her classmates, “We overcame quite a bit to earn this degree.”

See More: Check out more than 400 photos from the 2020 Commencement ceremony.

As it turned out, Smithhisler and her classmates would have to overcome a few more hurdles to walk across a Monmouth stage and be recognized in person.

A live Commencement ceremony planned for September of 2020 was canceled because of a resurgence in the pandemic, and this weekend’s planned outdoor ceremony in the traditional Wallace Hall Plaza location was moved inside because of rain.

“In the end, there is no substitute for the real thing,” said Monmouth President Clarence R. Wyatt in his opening remarks to the Class of 2020, who gathered instead in the Huff Athletic Center field house. “The weather outside can do nothing to dampen the joy of this day.”

“It’s nice to be back with old friends. It feels like you never left.”
– Josh Gross, Class of 2020

A total of 59 members of the 194-member class participated in the 40-minute ceremony, which had the time-honored traditions of bagpipes and a choral rendition of the College hymn, “A Flame of White and Crimson.”

Many class members wore caps and gowns, some didn’t. All wore masks, a reminder that the circumstances from 19 months ago – when they weren’t allowed to return to campus after spring break – are still very much a part of our lives.

Finding closure

“We technically graduated, but it never really felt like ‘This is all over,’” said Terreia Walker.

Added classmate Kasha Appleton, “It feels nice to be able to take our photos together and be celebrated.”

Class of 2020 members Kierra King, left, and Magdalynne Bruckner pose for a picture. King graduat... Class of 2020 members Kierra King, left, and Magdalynne Bruckner pose for a picture. King graduated mana cum laude with a degree in Spanish and public relations, and Bruckner graduated cum laude with a degree in public relations.“Being here is like a book,” said Jacob Durdan. “My time at Monmouth was a big chapter in my life. It’s nice to have some closure to that chapter.”

Standing next to him while waiting for the ceremony to begin was Josh Gross.

“It’s nice to be back with old friends,” said Gross. “It feels like you never left.”

Magdalynne Bruckner, who served two years as president of the College’s student government organization, addressed the class. She played on a famous quotation when imparting her final message.

“We came to Monmouth College, we’ve seen the world after Monmouth, what will we conquer?” she said noting the theme of choices will be a part of her classmates’ futures. “Make your choices proudly and boldly.”

Two Monmouth classics majors would’ve instantly recognized Bruckner’s adaption of the translation of “I came, I saw, I conquered” – a quotation popularly attributed to Julius Caesar.

“It’s great to finally have some closure,” said Emili Smucker, a classics major who had family members drive eight hours from Ohio to attend the event. “It felt like my time here wasn’t really over.”

Another classics major, Matthew Polasik, agreed that the ceremony was not only important to his classmates, but also to parents and other family members.

“It feels fantastic to finally do this,” he said while standing in line before the ceremony. “My family has been looking forward to this for a long, long time. It’s going to make them really happy.”

Home, sweet home

Following the ceremony, those feelings of parental happiness were confirmed.

“It feels refreshing,” said Jim Hankinson, whose son, Jared Hankinson, graduated. “I’m glad it’s done for him and that he has closure. This has been a great experience for him.”

“We came to Monmouth College, we’ve seen the world after Monmouth, what will we conquer? Make your choices proudly and boldly.”
– Magdalynne Bruckner, Class of 2020

“Absolutely wonderful, fantastic,” said Tammy Crothers, whose son Brock Crothers participated in the ceremony. “I’m so glad that they recognized this class. They’ve been through so much. It’s a testament to what kind of school Monmouth College is that they put on this ceremony for the class.”

The Crothers family will gather on campus again in spring 2023 when current junior Gabrielle Crothers graduates. Brock will likely return to campus then, as well, and he said he appreciated the opportunity to be back this weekend and join his 2020 classmates.

“All the emotions came back,” he said. “Coming back home brought back a lot of memories.”

Joe Krall, left, and Clark Gaden pose for a picture following their class' commencement cerem... Joe Krall, left, and Clark Gaden pose for a picture following their class' commencement ceremony. Krall graduated with a degree in business administration, and Gaden graduated cum laude with a degree in business administration and accounting.That is always the case for alumni who return to campus, whether it’s for Commencement or Homecoming or just to meet a faculty member or classmate on campus.

“No matter where you go, this will always be home,” Wyatt told the class.

Lucas Sondgeroth, who earlier in the weekend was celebrated along with other Sondgeroths as a member of the College’s Family of the Year, agreed.

“It felt weird and odd to leave the way we did,” he said of the last two months of his senior year, which were held via remote learning. “It’s nice to come back and feel like home again. It really feels like home when you hear those bagpipes.”

“It feels good to get that final goodbye to the place that had become your home for four years,” said Chandler Claudé of what he called a “special” event. “This final sendoff was really needed.”

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