There doesn’t need to be anything unusual for Commencement to be a major event filled with emotion and pride. Yet on Monday, May 9, the kickoff for the usual festivities was feel-good, goosebump worthy as members of the Class of 2020 returned to the welcoming embrace of Mount Saint Mary’s University for the opportunity to walk across the stage, symbolically receive a diploma and have their photo taken with President Ann McElaney-Johnson, all while decked out in traditional Commencement regalia.
It did not matter that two years had passed since their official graduation was held exclusively online at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and that these former students were well into careers or grad school – perhaps some even concluding those programs this spring. Their family and friends in attendance were also as excited and proud as those who came to later sessions; it’s possible that time and circumstance had even heightened the joy of the proceedings.
Several hours later, those receiving graduate degrees took their turns on stage for their diplomas and hooding ceremony. Graduates and their guests listened to a short address by Brian Gutierrez ’22, MSN, who talked about the late Anthony Bourdain’s wish “to leave something good behind.” Gutierrez encouraged his fellow graduates to keep an open mind and to continue learning – not in a classroom, but from those encountered on life’s path. “Commit to being great,” he said. “Continue to push your own limits. Pursue your wildest dreams. Love so deeply that it is tangible. Be certain to leave something behind.”
Similar to last year, all proceedings were held outside next to Banc of California Stadium. This year, guests were able to sit outside on either side of the graduate seating section and took advantage of close-up views provided on four large screens that zeroed in on the action. They cheered, and this year’s cacophony was provided by plastic vuvzelas popularized during the 2010 soccer World Cup. Adding to the festive atmosphere were several likenesses of graduates’ faces bobbing among the crowd, reminiscent of the images used at stadiums when in-person sports fans were not yet possible. It was likely a strange sight for the graduates to see their own faces in the audience, but it certainly made it easy for them to spot their family and friends.
The following day saw the undergraduate nursing students’ ceremony in the morning and all other undergraduate programs’ festivities several hours later. Following remarks by Leah Fitzgerald, PhD, FNP-BC, dean and Fletcher Jones endowed chair of nursing, graduates Janelle Richard ’22 ADN, Julia Cecilia ’22 BSN and Brittany Irvin ’22 ABSN from the nursing program addressed their classmates, whereas William Gonzalez ’22 BS in business administration from Weekend/Evening & Online College and Scarlett Zambada ’22 BA, political science and candidate, cum laude, shared that afternoon’s honor.
After official photographs were taken, graduates were directed to one of two photo booths, where they used props, ran a bubble machine, and took fun photos via a camera that rotated 360-degrees around a platform where the photo subject(s) stood. This stop was so popular that graduates had to be shooed away to their seats for the tassel ceremonies with promises that they would have plenty of time after the close of the program to return for some shots. Many others returned with different friends to extend the celebration.
Krishauna Hines-Gaither, PhD, the Mount’s inaugural vice president for equity, diversity and justice, addressed all the three 2022 graduating classes, comparing the Spanish-speaking community’s concept of testimonio to a common African American church tradition of Testimony Service where people share their stories of triumph and overcoming. Hines-Gaither, like many of the Mount’s graduates, was the first in her family to obtain a four-year degree, and she spoke of several mentors and how they steered her, several times detouring her from her perceived path — a career as a flight attendant and her pursuit of a PhD in Spanish, for example, instead going into teaching and then pursuing diversity work.
To ensure that the audience heard her message, Hines-Gaither engaged in a Ghanian call-and-response tradition in which she would say “Ago,” to ask if she had everyone’s attention, to which the audience was instructed to reply “Ameh,” a positive response meant to be said loudly, even shouted. She said “Ago” several times during her talk and the “Ameh” response came back to her as enthusiastically the last time as it had the first. She indeed had everyone’s attention. Unprompted, several people addressed her later that week on campus with either call, depending on the situation. Hines-Gaither captivated each audience, which bodes well for the complicated work she is undertaking in her position.
A special awarding of the Carondelet Medal, the University’s highest honor, was held during the final undergraduate ceremony and presented to Thomas J. Blumenthal, long-time member of the Board of Trustees and immediate past chair. President McElaney-Johnson presented the award while Trustee Alison Sowden introduced Blumenthal to the audience and outlined his financial support of and many accomplishments on behalf of the University.
Vernice Grajeda ’11, president of the Alumnae Association Board of Directors, welcomed each class of new alumnae to the Association, and President McElaney-Johnson ended each undergraduate gathering with the traditional tassel ceremony in which graduates moved their cap’s tassels from the right to the left: “If you ever forget which side your tassel goes on,” she said, “remember that you wear it on the left side, over your heart, to remind you of your alma mater.”
Congratulations to the Classes of 2020 and 2022!
Note: If you were unable to attend Commencement or would like to revisit part or all of the festivities, videos of all four events can be found on our website.