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Commencement 2021: Students reflect on an in-person ceremony after a remote year

The commencement ceremony will happen on Rosenbloom Field this year. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

Grinnell College’s commencement ceremony will occur in person and outdoors on the Rosenbloom Football Field this year on May 28. Fourth years will be able to bring two guests with them, and all attendees will be required to be socially distanced. The ceremony will be livestreamed for fourth years not attending the ceremony in person and the general Grinnell community.

Students expressed excitement for the ceremony as well as apprehension for being around so many people at once for the first time in over a year.

Linnet Adams `21 said that she expects commencement to feel spaced out with less of an excited atmosphere compared to previous years. “Even though there’s a lot of seniors on campus I still think it’s going to be not as populated as we want it to be,” she said. Adams said she was apprehensive about each student having two guests when the decision was first announced, but now she plans to embrace it by inviting both of her parents.

Anushka Kulshreshtha `21 was planning to invite her sister, but with India’s level 4 health alert status, her sister (who lives in India) is not allowed to enter the United States. Instead, Kulshreshtha is looking to either invite some of her friends in Grinnell that are not graduating, or her advisors, since faculty cannot attend the ceremony without an invitation.

“A lot of people on campus who I hang out with are planning to go,” Kulshreshtha said. “I’m excited for having that gathering with so many people, that hasn’t happened in so long.”

Graduates will line up wearing their caps and gowns alongside the field house and walk from the north end of the field to the stage on the east side. Guest seating will be set up across the field. The procession will be accompanied by recorded music this year instead of a live band.

This year’s commencement address will be given by Professor Kesho Scott, sociology.

One of the five honorary degrees of this year’s ceremony will go to Mardelle Early, who was nominated by Adams. Early was Adams’ middle school principal and has been working in education for 45 years (the College has honored a K-12 educator at commencement annually since 2013). The other honorary degrees will go to Scott (also the commencement speaker), Anya Grundmaan, Sarah Hake and Simon Estes. Nominations were solicited from the graduating class, and the Honorary Degree Committee made the final decision based on the nominations.

Grundmann oversees National Public Radio’s podcast portfolio, music, events, entertainment and talk radio programing. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Hake is a plant developmental biologist that has made significant contributions to plant sciences through the cloning of Km. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Estes is an opera star and humanitarian who helped deconstruct racial prejudice within opera, in addition to starting up several educational foundations. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Only two of the honorary degree recipients will be attending in person, one of which is Scott. Director of Conference Operations and Events Rachel Bly `93 said that Estes is likely to come because he lives just under an hour away from Grinnell. The other honorary degrees will have video messages posted on the College website, and their citations will be read during the ceremony.

And a number of graduating students won’t be attending the ceremony in person either.

In a Discord message to The S&B, Molly Nelson `21 said that many fourth years are sad that they can’t go to graduation in person, and will instead be watching the ceremony virtually. “I decided not to go back for graduation because I would have to fly back and quarantine/join the testing program during finals week, and I just felt like it was going to be really stressful,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, off-campus fourth years had to make the decision early on for whether they decided to return for graduation. She said that insufficient information about the cost for staying in Grinnell or what the quarantine process would be like contributed to her decision not to attend commencement.

Other honorary events will continue through the commencement exercises, including the recognition of faculty member emeritus, the recognition of faculty moving to senior faculty status and the charge to the graduates given by President Anne Harris.

Take away box lunches will be provided by Dining Services in the Harris Center. Bly said that for public health reasons, the College would prefer if people took their meals to go. However, if people stay within their family groups they will be permitted to stay on campus and eat.

Kulshreshtha said she expects people will have picnics on Mac Field and enjoy the atmosphere. “It feels like things are changing back to normal, so I’m excited for having that gathering with so many people, even if it’s a little nerve wracking.”

Kulshreshtha said that even though the graduation ceremony won’t be as crowded or energetic as it would have been pre-2020, she is excited to experience her first graduation. “I’ll take anything, I’ve been working for four years. … Give me that degree,” she said.

Commencement will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 28 on the Rosenbloom Field.

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