Reinhardt University proudly hosted the 135th Commencement ceremony on May 7 to honor nearly 300 graduates from the Class of 2020 - one year after completing their degrees. The graduates finally had their time to be recognized and celebrate with loved ones after COVID-19 delayed their original ceremony.
“The entire Reinhardt University community is excited to offer in-person commencement to honor the Class of 2020,” said President Mark Roberts, Ph.D. “Our graduates have persisted despite great obstacles, and I am so thrilled that we can perform this important academic ritual.
“Graduates, it’s good to be here – isn’t it,” asked Roberts as he opened the ceremony. “You have endured what Americans have not experienced for a hundred years – a global pandemic. You donned the masks, you kept your distance, you washed your hands and you even left our campus – before it was time for you to go. You showed up here, today, making the round complete and the circle full.”
Roberts addressed the graduates on the theme of persistence and going the “Eagle’s Mile.”
“Did you know half the students who enter college do not graduate? That’s not you. You’re graduating. You’ve gone through turmoil to get here. You’ve endured, you’ve experimented in labs, you’ve created, you’ve gone to clinicals, you’ve learned in modified classrooms all through a global pandemic. You’ve gone the Eagle’s Mile.”
Each graduate and faculty member adorned the Reinhardt Eagle’s Mile Medallion – inscribed with the message “You’ve gone the Eagle’s Mile” – to memorialize their achievements in such a time as this.
The Rev. Brian Smith, pastor at Waleska United Methodist Church, provided the Invocation and Baccalaureate message, in place of a separate Baccalaureate ceremony. His message, inspired by scripture passage Matthew 9:9-13, referenced a world where the surprising and unexpected may happen. Smith offered two prayers to the graduates before they crossed the Commencement stage.
“My first prayer is you might always remember that simple and yet surprising and profound proclamation that you are among those who are loved by God. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve been through, or what people may have said or will say to you, you are deeply loved, and you have a dignity that no one can take away.
“My second prayer for you is that you, too, might be about the work of painting and creating a beautiful and surprising world that is rooted in mercy and love and grace…may you see to make a difference in the lives of others. Be a peacemaker and a hope giver.”
Spencer Grace Dunn, who earned a Bachelor of Music in Performance, cum laude, entertained the audience with a vocal presentation of “Look to the Rainbow” from “Finian’s Rainbow.”
Erin Gabrielle Marroquin, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, summa cum laude, provided the student reflection of gratitude for what she received from Reinhardt and inspiration to her fellow graduates for their enduring spirit.
“In the Summer of 2017, I was struggling to find purpose in finding a college that fit for me and God’s plan for my life. I emailed the new volleyball coach, Brian Goodhind, and after a few phone calls, I decided to commit to Reinhardt – sight unseen. Reinhardt changed the course of my life.”
Marroquin’s family moved her from the west coast to the small town of Waleska.
“As soon as we drove on campus and stepped out of the car, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. That feeling has stayed with me for the last four years…because of the people at Reinhardt.”
Marroquin continued to address her fellow graduates with inspiration for their future.
“It’s easy to get stuck in the last year of our lives with the challenges and trials we faced. We cannot control the past, but we can control how we act today and the impact we will have on the world. Take the principles of integrity, honesty and individual responsibility that Reinhardt instilled in us and allow others to see them emulated in the way you live your life and interact with them.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Randall E. Trammell ’03, ’09, President & CEO, State YMCA of Georgia, encouraged his soon-to-be fellow Reinhardt alumni with three points: to find your purpose and be the best version of yourself, that it’s okay to change directions and to leave the world a better place than you found it.
“I share a few thoughts I have learned along my journey…not as one who has arrived but rather a fellow sojourner who’s had a bit of a head start,” said Trammell. “Let me assure you: if you can find your true calling in life, you will live with passion, make the world a better place, be richer than you could imagine and feel as though the very face of God himself is smiling on you. That may happen next week, next year or in the years ahead, but the search will be worth it and your life will never be the same again. So, for now, your purpose is to find your purpose.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2020!