Delayed Commencement Ceremony Brings Back Graduates


Mads Olsen

Members of the Class of 2020 walked for a belated Commencement, which the Office of Alumni Relations hosted during Homecoming weekend.

This weekend, 172 recent graduates returned to Oberlin for the Special Class of 2020 Commencement Ceremony after the original ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Saturday’s ceremony took place at noon in Tappan Square and was followed by various Commencement and Homecoming events, which allowed graduates to celebrate their achievements at the College.

When fourth-years left campus in March 2020, a normal graduation was put on hold. Remote classes ended in May 2020 and the graduating class entered life in a pandemic without any formal recognition. The Special Class of 2020 Commencement Ceremony invited these recent graduates back to campus during a new semester.

According to Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Terry Kurtz, President Carmen Twillie Ambar made a promise at the onset of the pandemic to bring back the class of 2020 for an in-person graduation ceremony. Though students had a virtual senior week and Commencement at the end of May 2020, the College wanted to uphold this promise to the graduates.

“As everything sort of opened up with vaccinations and with our activities, we started to look at Homecoming and we saw that there’s going to be students on campus,” Kurtz said. “There would be a lot of energy on campus. Some of the alumni would already be coming back … so it was a factor of the earliest possible chance to bring people back per [President Ambar’s] promise, as well as campus having some life, energy, and activity.”

Dizzy Farbanish, OC ’20, reflected on the event and the speeches that acknowledged his and his fellow graduates’ fortitude.

“It was as if it was our actual Commencement,” he said. “They had some good speeches that were kind of targeted around how everything has sucked for the last year and a half, but now we have more grit. … At the end of the day we got to go to [President] Ambar’s house and she had like a whole thing — she gave a toast, there was a bunch of champagne and beer and wine and a bunch of cheese and meat and stuff. … Then there was an after-party that was on Wilder [Bowl]. That was a good dinner and also more beer and wine. And then there were fireworks after that. So honestly a pretty good reunion event.”

Farbanish also expressed his gratitude for the ceremony, which affirmed his love of Oberlin and its community after more than a year and a half away from it.

“It was definitely a classy move,” he said. “I feel like it reignited my support for Oberlin. I mean I always loved Oberlin, but it was nice that they did something special for us, and it just made it feel like we were more of a family.”

Many students were unable to make it back to Oberlin, as they had career commitments and were scattered across the country and world. There were 642 graduates in 2020, yet only 172 were able to return for the festivities. Will Axelrod, OC ’20, said that he was disappointed he could not return.

“I have a job, cat, car that needs repair etc. and [Los Angeles is] thousands of miles away from Oberlin,” he wrote in a message to the Review. “Some of my best friends attended and offered for me to stay in their apartment in Cleveland, but I just didn’t have the time. I guess life just kept moving on, and I wanted to look forward and I couldn’t really afford to look back at the moment. Really sad I couldn’t go, but I made my peace with that in 2020.”

Class of 2020 Representative and Commencement speaker Naeisha McClain was happy that they were able to reunite with their friends and peers that they hadn’t been able to see since the onset of the pandemic.

“I remember running to one of my friends who was the last person that I saw in March when leaving campus and just like giving her the biggest hug because I had not seen her in so long,” they said. “I saw that a lot with the different interactions that were happening around me — just people being excited to see these individuals who they had not seen since 2020. … There was excitement and happiness and just joy.”