FARMINGTON — Like many schools dealing with restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Maine at Farmington prerecorded its graduation ceremony and released it online Saturday for graduates’ families and friends to see.
While the Class of 2021 officially graduated May 8, much of the ceremony that would traditionally surround the event came a week earlier. In order to follow COVID-19 social-distancing protocols, the “unconventional” commencement ceremony, including all speeches and students receiving their diplomas, was recorded on May 1 and only published online the following weekend when degrees were officially conferred.
The graduation began with a compilation of the 186 participating graduates marching in the procession. In total, approximately 376 undergraduate and graduate students received their diplomas this year.
A resounding theme throughout the graduation addresses was one commending graduates for completing their college careers amid difficult challenges brought on by the pandemic. Among those delivering speeches was UMF President Eric Serna.
“The new look for this year’s commencement is an affirmation that life is unpredictable and sometimes you have to approach things differently and find new ways to be successful,” Serna said during his speech. “However, from the turn of your tassels, it marks your next steps into a bright future.”
Serna praised the class of 2021 for its “dedication,” “perseverance” and having “learned new ways to be successful” during this “unprecedented year of change.”
“Despite the need to practice social distancing and forgo many in-person experiences, we learned how to engage in a vibrant, virtual community,” he said. “You made the changes needed to protect yourself and your community.”
Student speaker Billie Rose Newby, 22, was tapped by the university to represent the voice of the class of 2021. In her speech, Newby spoke about what it means to be a graduating class whose “day-to-day experiences” were “historic times … that will be discussed academically in classes for generations to come” such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did not sit still in these moments and let the every day pass without input from its participants,” Newby said. “We came together and acknowledged that this is not history for us, it is part of our lives.”
In an interview, Newby said that her speech was inspired by “the way that all of my fellow class members of the class of 2021 were able to come together as a community and speak out and shape the university for what it becomes to us.”
Newby explained that she was particularly inspired by the campus reaction to a Title IX incident at UMF in 2019 in which two female students said that the college failed to protect them when they reported instances of sexual assault on campus. Protests, forums and collaborations with the college administration followed in what Newby called an “impactful” time where she and other students “made sure that things changed for the better.”
“I tried to be the best voice I could be for our class and for who we stand for and what we want to be represented by in the future,” Newby said.
Newby finished out her speech by acknowledging her class’s “intelligence, creativity, tenacity and ambition.”
“Whatever you may become, know that if you speak out and work hard for what you believe in, you will mold the world, you will leave a mark, and you will make a difference,” Newby concluded. “As you go forth and make your mark on the world, remember where you started.”
The commencement address was delivered by Professor Emeritus of English Daniel Gunn, who emphasized that “what matters is being present, fully, in the now you have been granted.”
Gunn implored the graduating class to “cultivate this faculty of attention, the capacity to notice things as they are, in all of their nuanced complexity.”
“I hope you will also live all you can by embracing the world ecstatically,” Gunn encouraged. “By finding opportunities to throw yourself unreservedly into the local habitations and the shimmering present tense scenes that constitute your life.”
“In my classes, I have never seen such a commitment to creating a safe and accepting and nurturing space as I have during your time at Farmington,” he concluded. “As a group, you have faced loss and disorientation and tremendous mental health pressures but you have survived and thrived and excelled and made a difference in the world and now many of you are walking across the stage in person against all odds to receive your diplomas. You have a lot to be proud of.”
The ceremony ended with the presentation of candidates and Serna’s conferment of the degrees.
The ceremony can be viewed on the UMF website at www.umf.maine.edu/commencement-2021/. The ceremony will also be “available on Youtube for viewing for years to come.”