Dear members of the university community,
We made it through. Exhale. Give thanks. Dance!
August 2020, when we welcomed our largest student body ever, seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? Back then, we decided to offer the safest in-person educational environment possible, and the decision was a good one, as we ardently hoped it would be, even though the pandemic had a way of upending the most careful and thoughtful planning across our nation and around the world.
But, that decision, along with Shenandoah’s vigilant dedication to combating the virus’ spread by developing saliva surveillance testing and plenty of vaccination opportunities for students and staff (including hosting of the region’s mass-vaccination clinic from January until earlier this month) led us here to this past weekend, when we hosted four smaller, socially distanced University Commencement ceremonies held outdoors, under a large tent next to the Brandt Student Center.
At these events, we honored the perseverance, creativity and hard work of 208 graduates for August 2020, 353 for December 2020, and 848 for May 2021, for a total of 1,409 graduates. It was both a different kind of Commencement weekend and one that hearkened to the past because, until the completion of the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center in 2018, we usually held Commencement outdoors.
We delighted not only in the accomplishments of students who have endured through the worst public health crisis in a century but also in the myriad efforts of our entire Shenandoah community that allowed us to gather together safely.
We honored others, as well, providing presidential medals to bipartisan champion U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, and to Valley Health – our longtime partner in health care throughout the region. Lydia Thomas and Brent Tarter received honorary degrees. Thomas is the former president and chief executive officer of Noblis, a nonprofit science, technology and strategy organization working at all levels of government, in private industry and with other nonprofits including in national and homeland security; public safety; transportation; health care; criminal justice; and energy and the environment. Tarter is a well-known historian, and a past official with the Library of Virginia. In 2006, he and Shenandoah University History Professor Warren Hofstra, Ph.D., founded the Virginia Forum, the first annual conference on Virginia history.
Truly, this was a weekend that none of us will ever forget, and we sincerely hope will be a singular event in Shenandoah’s history. Next year, we expect to be fully in the throes of our “new normal.” As you look back upon this historic year, know that Shenandoah rose above the rest to stay strong and to move our students forward. Thank you for helping make it possible and for believing in this very special place.
Looking forward to a healthy summer for us all, and wishing our recent graduates a lifetime of purpose, impact and happiness,