Today is May 1st, and Piedmont’s 2020 Commencement was scheduled to begin a couple of hours from now. We were planning on making this commencement very special not only to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our graduates, but also to mark the beginning or Piedmont’s 75th anniversary. We were excited to have Glenda Hatchett of Judge Hatchett TV as our commencement speaker which seemed fitting at the end of the first year of offering a criminal justice degree.
But then coronavirus happened, and you know all too well how that story has gone so far. That made having an actual graduation ceremony impossible, so we find ourselves quietly mailing out diplomas instead of presenting them publicly in front of friends and family who would have gathered together to honor and congratulate the class of 2020. And I find myself filming this on my iPhone from my front porch wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, instead of full regalia in a crowded auditorium with Pomp and Circumstance. That would have been the appropriate place to say congratulations to you our graduates.
This is frustrating. You deserve to be publicly celebrated. You have succeeded where others have not. Many who attempt to earn a university degree never make it. They don’t have the endurance, the patience, the determination, the ability to overcome obstacles and solve problems, or the willingness to make the kinds of sacrifices you had to make keep you moving toward and finally crossing the finish line. You have proven that you are not just starters, you are finishers. And you deserve to be celebrated.
So, our goal is to have a public ceremony for you – hopefully some time this year. After all, you are the class of 2020. However, around Piedmont you may always be known not only as the class of 2020, but the Corona Class. I suspect that we will be talking about this for years to come.
Finally, I want to mention how thankful and proud we are of your attitudes through all of this. I have spoken to many of our students through FaceTime calls in recent weeks, and I have been very encouraged by the positive spirit and lack of complaining across the board. Your responses to these unexpected changes, uneasy times, and uncertain future are inspiring. Perhaps as you face other challenges in the future you will back at this time be a crucial aspect of your education. You may have learned these life lessons while in college but they could never have been fully taught in a classroom. These kinds of things can only be learned during times of challenge or moments of crisis, and many of you are making straight A’s in personal growth.
At the core of who we are as a university is a desire to be Christ-centered. Our vision is that every graduate would know Christ personally, follow his teachings faithfully, and share his story passionately through the way you live and the words you speak. From everything I can see from your responses to this pandemic, you are off to a good start. You have demonstrated faith over fear, love over hate, and light over darkness.
I encourage you to live a life like that: shine as lights in a dark world by making Christ preeminent in your life, career, and at the center of all you do.
Again, congratulations to the Class of 2020!