KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo celebrated the academic achievements —as well as the resilience and dedication to persevere in the face of a global pandemic — of two classes of graduates during Commencement Tuesday, May 11.
Members of the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 began assembling a little over an hour before the outdoor ceremony, set in the campus Pavilion. With the sun shining in a bright blue May sky, just the hint of a breeze kept temperatures in the brisk mid-50s.
President Michael A. McRobbie, Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke, other university officials, faculty, and special guests, led by faculty member Kristen Snoddy as campus grand marshal, processed to the stage to begin the ceremony.
McRobbie welcomed the graduates, noting that at 706 members, the Class of 2021 sets a campus record, and is part of a class of more than 21,000 graduates throughout IU.
They are among the first to graduate into the university’s third century, he noted, with IU’s Bicentennial celebrations in 2020 interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which also upended lives everywhere.
“This has made the last year of your time at IU Kokomo very different from the traditional IU experience,” he said. “But despite the enormous challenges and disruption caused by the pandemic, you remained dedicated to your studies and steadfast in adjusting to all the public health measures needed to help fight the pandemic, with a combination of courage, resilience, and an unwavering concern for others.”
Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke highlighted several stories of resilience among the graduates, such as Delaney Harvey, who worked full time or part time jobs while earning her degree, in order to set an example for her three-year-old daughter. She saluted those who served in the military, including Shelby Mellen, who served in the U.S. Marines, and earned a business degree in order to take the next step in his quest to become a commercial pilot. She also spoke of students like Alyssa Pier and Samuel Garcia-Lopez, whose lives were changed by travel experiences through the Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) program, and Angela Bailiff, who returned to earn her degree after dropping out of high school thirty years ago, and who is now going on to graduate school in English.
“Graduates, as I look at each and every one of you, I am inspired by your personal stories and your successful journeys,” she said. “And we all know this last year has been challenging, to say the least. I commend you for your perseverance and persistence to complete your degree.”
Student speaker Mehreen Tahir also applauded her classmates for continuing the quest for education, despite the pandemic, saying they emerged stronger and more resilient. With her graduation Tuesday, she became not only the first girl in her family, but in her village in Pakistan, to get a higher education.
“You are blessed to be born in a country that values freedom, your universities that value students, and your professors that value your success,” Tahir said. “I urge you to passionately pursue your dreams, and never give up on your goals. You have a big responsibility to bring a change in this world, for people like me, coming from Third World countries, who look up to you for inspiration.”
The central moment of the ceremony was conferral of degrees, and turning tassels from right to left to signal having graduated. Each graduate crossed the stage as his or her name was read, to be greeted by Sciame-Giesecke.
Graduate Tyler Fuller, from Camden, led singing of the national anthem and the alma mater during the ceremony.
Former Kokomo mayor Greg Goodnight received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, recognizing his contributions to Kokomo and surrounding communities during his three terms.
McRobbie also received the Chancellor’s Medallion, the highest honor Sciame-Giesecke can give, in recognition of his dedication to the success of IU’s regional campuses during his 14-year tenure as president. He will retire in June.
In closing the ceremony, McRobbie charged the classes to use their wisdom and courage to advance the common good.
“May you carry on the traditions of excellence that have brought you to this moment,” he said. “And may it be said in years to come that it was graduates like you, here and around the world, who confronted and conquered the most difficult challenges of today, and gained the respect and gratitude of all.”