Commencement Celebrations Renewed With Week-Long Events

For the first time since spring 2019, Oberlin College will hold a regular commencement celebration. In past years, events have been limited due to COVID-19. Leading up to the ceremony, there will be various events to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates and their families.

In 2020, there were no in-person events held for commencement week, and the commencement ceremony was held online. The following year, COVID-19 protocols enforced limits on gatherings, leading to an absence of commencement week activities and two separate ceremonies with smaller crowds, masking, and social distancing. Last year, the late conclusion of the 2020–2021 three-semester academic year limited the amount of time available for commencement activities. Commencement celebrations ended up being abbreviated, allowing less time for graduation traditions and farewells.

This year, various Oberlin students, staff, faculty members, and community members have worked together to bring commencement back into full swing. Fourth-year Student Senate representative Fafa Nutor works with the Office of Student Life and Leadership to organize commencement week celebrations. Nutor emphasizes the importance of a week-long celebration.

“Last year, there were final senior events that coincided with reading period and finals,” Nutor said. “Commencement week will allow students to have a week of celebration and connection with their peers before they depart.”

Academic departments will host open houses. Students and their families are able to see research projects and speak with professors.

Fourth-year Environmental Studies major Naomi Friedman spoke to the Review about these updates.

“I think commencement will be a bop!” Friedman said. “I’m excited for my family to meet my professors and see the [Adam Joseph Lewis Center].”

“It is always such a pleasure to congratulate graduating seniors and their families,” History Department Chair Annemarie Sammartino said.

Events celebrating Oberlin’s history are planned in coordination with the Oberlin Heritage Center. Tours of the Monroe House and Jewett House and a walking tour of Oberlin’s history are available. Museum Education and Tour Manager Stephanie Bohnak spoke to the Review about the events.

“We’re excited that we have the opportunity to tell a unique local history to a wide variety of people,” Bohnak said. “It’s a great chance to tell the impactful stories of Oberlin prior to and following the Civil War, in terms of abolition and race relations.”

On May 16, the Office of Student Involvement will host a boat trip for the class of 2023. Those who RSVP’d will experience The Nautica Queen, a dining cruise ship.

“I know the boat filled up last year, and it seems like something fun to do with your friends,” College fourth-year Ellie Jensen said.

Director of Student Life Tina Zwegat said that she’s most excited for a commencement week tradition called Illumination. In 2020 and 2021, the event was virtual, and in 2022, it was scaled back due to COVID-19 precautions. During Illumination, hundreds of lanterns are hung up on trees and walkways at nighttime while OSteel and Taiko drummers perform.

“The street is blocked off and everyone dances in it,” Zwegat said. “You look at your watch and think, ‘Should I get home and go to bed early because commencement is tomorrow?’ but you stay because OSteel has you moving and because Illumination is beautiful.”

Assistant Vice President and Dean for Intercultural Engagement Mark Zapara helps support graduation events for international students, LGBTQ+ students, and those who hold racially and ethnically underrepresented identities. On April 26, international students were given graduation stoles that represent the country of their origin. On May 18, LGBTQ+ students participating in Lavender Graduation will celebrate graduation in the Root Room at 10 a.m. At 2 p.m. on the same day, the Unity Celebration will commemorate those of racial minority backgrounds.

“After more than 30 years of working in higher education, Commencement is always the biggest payoff for me as an educator,” Zapara wrote in an email to the Review. “It’s the great equalizer in that wherever a student came from, however they got here, they all are unified in having accomplished this feat together! And that even though it’s only been a [four-]year experience, the memories and connection to a student’s alma mater are there for a lifetime. They can always come home!”

At the same time as commencement, 25-year and 50-year reunions will be taking place. The classes of 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1973 will be returning to campus. Events include a private tour of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, a wood-fired pizza lunch, and Organ Pump in Finney Chapel. This year’s commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary doctorate in humanities will be Richard Powers, a Pulitzer prize-winning author on environmentalism. Other honorary degree recipients include Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and Harvard University Ph.D. graduate and epidemiologist Christl Donnelly, OC ’88.

The 2023 commencement ceremony will be held in person and open to guests with no tickets required. It will take place on Monday, May 22 at 9:30 a.m.