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Commencement for Class of 2020 and 2021 occurs in stadium in historic first

Channing Wang / Thresher

By Talha Arif and Hajera Naveed     5/17/21 8:51am

Class of 2021 undergraduates lined up on Friday evening to receive their degrees and Class of 2020 undergraduates received theirs on Saturday evening, both amidst a limited crowd due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Commencement was held for the first time in the Rice football stadium to allow for more physical distancing, after Rice administration adapted to allow for students to bring four guests to attend their respective ceremonies. 

Undergraduate Student Association speaker Madison Morris, former SA President Anna Margaret Clyburn and retiring Wiess College magister Laura Schaefer were some of the speakers for the 2021 ceremony. In her speech, Schaefer (Wiess College ’95) said the Culture of Care meant more than the alcohol policy or COVID-19 restrictions to the Class of 2021.

“So much has happened during your time at Rice. Hurricane Harvey roared in at the very beginning of your freshman year, and at the time we thought that would be the most momentous thing you encountered here,” Schaefer said. “But the reaction we have consistently seen is to not turn inward but to instead look outward and see where you can help others. We are so grateful to you for all of the care you have shown.”

Daniel Davis (Wiess ‘21) said that although he originally did not expect to walk at graduation, he really enjoyed the experience.

“Getting to [walk at graduation] made graduating feel all the more real — a culmination of the 4 years of work, experiences, and time that we all have put in,” Davis said.

In March 2020, members of the Class of 2020 did an impromptu walk through the Sallyport with the promise that a physical ceremony would be held once restrictions had loosened enough to allow for it. Over a year later, 2020 graduates entered the stadium to receive their degrees.

Two of the speeches for the Class of 2020 ceremony were given by SA speaker Emma Hanan and past SA President Grace Wickerson.

Jackie Richards (Martel College ’20), said she was grateful to attend a graduation as close to the real one as possible, though she primarily returned to Rice for a reunion with others.

“The main reason I came back was to see my friends and reconnect with people who I haven’t gotten to see since the start of the pandemic,” Richards said. “As soon as some of my former suitemates said they wanted to come back for the ceremony, I was all in because I just wanted the chance to see my friends again and have a hint of normalcy again.”

Gabrielle Falcon (Martel College ‘20) said that she looked forward to walking at graduation in person, and was thankful to experience it with those she loved. 

“Last year Rice had told us we would receive a graduation ceremony and I think during the really tough parts of quarantine and this pandemic, I held on to that because it became less about the ceremony itself, and more about knowing that would be the next time I would safely be able to have a big reunion with my friends,” Falcon said. 

Normally, graduates walk through the Sallyport immediately following commencement. This year, colleges walked through the Sallyport at separate times on Friday morning for the Class of 2021 and Saturday afternoon for the Class of 2020 to allow for physical distancing. 

On Saturday morning, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof addressed the Rice community as the speaker for the 107th and 108th Rice commencements. In his speech, Kristof discussed the need for greater empathy. 

“Every now and then, you take a risk on someone, who maybe doesn’t even fully deserve it, and it pays off with them and reverberates through the lives of others. And that’s why I hope you will harness that empathy to your education and take risks on people,” Kristof said.

Kristof said a common piece of advice given to young people is that you should split your life into thirds: the first third for education, the second for making money and the third for giving back.

“I think that’s terrible advice because it robs you for two-thirds of your life from the fulfillment and meaning that you get from connecting to a cause larger than yourself,” Kristof said. “The blunt truth is that you all will go through some painful times … with temptations that threaten to overwhelm your moral compass. In such times, it helps to have that cause larger than yourself to cling to,” Kristof said.

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