By Austin Ferguson
Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo announced planned dates for commencement ceremonies for both campuses in an email on April 22.
In the message, Dell’Omo announced that commencement for the Lawrenceville campus is planned for Nov. 1 at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, while Westminster Choir College (WCC)’s commencement is planned for Dec. 12 at the Princeton University Chapel.
“This year, we all know things are different, and we had to make the disheartening decision to postpone our celebrations from the traditional dates in May,” Dell’Omo said in his email. “More than ever, I believe the symbolic occasion of graduation is important to our community.”
Commencement ceremonies were originally planned for May 15 for WCC and May 16 for the Lawrenceville campus before the postponement of both ceremonies was announced on March 17.
According to senior political science major and senior Class President Charles Palmer, who was a part of the student group who assisted the administration in picking dates, the decision to plan commencement ceremonies for Nov. 1 was to tie it into homecoming weekend.
“Commencement is a day everyone looks forward to,” Palmer said. “I think it perfectly ties into homecoming weekend because it also gives people an incentive to come back.”
Senior film and TV major Paige Ewing, who is the outgoing SGA president and was also part of the student group, said, “Homecoming for many schools is a time that alumni get to connect back to their roots… we all wanted to come back anyway because we all need the chance to say goodbye to our home and to fully step into that alumni position.”
Senior music major Kate Smith noted that WCC’s rescheduled commencement was intentionally set for the night of Readings and Carols, an event marked by a large alumni presence similar to homecoming weekend.
“[Readings and Carols weekend] is already such a magical experience,” Smith said. “So to make it an even more special weekend is going to be awesome.”
For the original commencement dates of May 15 and 16, the university has plans to create “celebratory videos” to commemorate graduates on commencement ceremonies’ original dates.
“While [the videos] are in no way meant to be a substitute for an actual commencement ceremony, I do hope they will offer a timely way to celebrate all that is simply remarkable about our Class of 2020 and create engagement opportunities in this socially-distanced environment,” Dell’Omo said in his message.
Though commencement ceremonies have new planned dates, Dell’Omo noted in his message that there is still a possibility that effects from COVID-19 could postpone both ceremonies again.
“These in-person commencement ceremonies have been planned with the assumption that we are able to return to large in-person gatherings by that point in time,” Dell’Omo said. “Should the coronavirus pandemic continue into the fall, we will need to re-evaluate this once again.”
According to Dell’Omo’s message, diplomas for graduating students will be mailed to them during the summer, while academic attire for the ceremony will be given closer to the planned commencement date.
Preceding the announcement of the new planned commencement dates was the announcement of the winners of Rider’s President’s Award from Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg
On April 17, Fenneberg announced in an email to the university community that Smith, Palmer and Ewing were honored with the President’s Award for the class of 2020.
“It really embodies the balance between academic success and leadership and social service to the university. For me, it’s that last hurrah in my four years at Rider,” Ewing said.
Palmer said, “Winning the President’s Award has been the honor of my lifetime, but this award [alone] doesn’t define my college experience. The experience that I’ve had inside and outside the classroom with mentors, faculty and administration…The friendships and mentors that I’ve gained long after I leave Rider, those are what defined my college experience.”
Traditionally, winning the President’s Award would bring up the experience of a convocation ceremony for Smith, however, due to school closings, Smith will not have that experience.
“The convocation ceremony is just really beautiful, so it’s usually about that ceremony and being around my classmates and sharing that moment with them,” Smith said. “But since I wasn’t able to have that ceremony, I mostly just think about the experiences I’ve had with my classmates in general.”
For Palmer, the President’s Award is not the only thing he has to look forward to on commencement day. Palmer has also received the honor of being the commencement speaker.
“As commencement speaker, my message to the class will be one that is about our experiences,” Palmer said. “Our graduating class will have left our legacy at Rider and we will be remembered far after we are gone.”
Dell’Omo made an emphasis in his email that commencement is a monumental event that can not be taken away from the students.
“Coronavirus may have changed the way we gather to celebrate the Rider University Class of 2020,” Dell’Omo said to end his April 22 email. “But it will never stop us from acknowledging this life-changing milestone in the lives of our students.”