Thanks to in-depth planning by university administration, faculty and key student representatives, in-person commencement ceremonies and March Out of the Arches returned this year. To adhere to COVID-19 protocols, there were three commencement ceremonies throughout the day on May 22 to celebrate the more than 1,400 students in the Class of 2021. This provided a unique opportunity for three students, Deja Copeland, Grace Gerten and Pascale Kunda, to be featured commencement speakers.

“As you know, graduates, we all share a special pride in this class,” President Julie Sullivan said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we discussed the need to avoid the situation of your generation becoming the ‘lost generation of students.’ We knew we must keep our doors open and adapt our teaching to ensure your engaged learning continued. We knew you had the potential to become the one of the greatest generations, which you are well on your way to becoming today.”

Copeland spoke to classmates about the importance of working for the common good, saying that it is a purpose that surpasses all disciplines.

“When we unconditionally embrace each other as one human family, unite for a purpose bigger than ourselves, we exemplify agape love … a love that with the catalyst of action, transcends all physical differences, prejudices, attitudes of hatred and remnants of historical tragedies … a love that is innately within all of us, yearning to be uncovered … a love that our world desperately needs now more than ever,” Copeland said.

Deja Copeland, student speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences commencement, hugs a family member after the ceremony in St. Paul on May 22, 2021.

Deja Copeland, student speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences commencement, hugs a family member after the ceremony. Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Gerten shared how the Class of 2021 was forced to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty.

“I think it’s safe to say none of us thought that this is how our junior and senior years would go. Remember when we thought Corona was just a beer? Zoom was just the noise of a sports car whipping by? Masks were just something Future rapped about? Getting tested was just something that happened during finals week? We’ve all had our college experience turned on its head.”

Grace Gerten speaks at the Opus College of Business undergraduate commencement ceremony. Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Grace Gerten speaks at the Opus College of Business undergraduate commencement ceremony. Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Tommie Award winner Pascale Kunda inspired her classmates by energetically reminding them of everything they had overcome.

“Everything that was thrown on you has made you strong. You are good, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are strong, and you are able to do more than you can imagine, more than you can fathom,” Kunda said. “You have excelled, you have all it takes to start, to build, to do all you can! You are ready to make an impact on the world, and it can’t wait to see you. So, go and live a transformed life, go, and make a change and an impact! You did it! ‘Felicitaciones! Ni uko ni uko!’ Congratulations, Class of 2021!”

Pascale Kunda delivers the student speech during the evening undergraduate commencement ceremony. Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas

Pascale Kunda delivers the student speech during the evening undergraduate commencement ceremony. Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas

“To me, graduation represents reflection and growth. It is so interesting to compare where I was as a freshman compared to now. I have gained confidence and knowledge academically and professionally, and I feel prepared for my next adventure post-graduation. My years at St. Thomas have taught me that some of the best learning happens outside of the classroom and that education is never truly complete.” – Kleio Vrohidis, who will be continuing her internship with Beehive Strategic Communication

“Graduation means that I finished all of my hard work, and I get to make my parents proud. They gave a lot in order for me to be here. I came through with honors, which was my goal. It means a lot to me to be in person.” – Derrick Diedrich, who will work as an intern at BAE Systems

“All of my hard work has led up to this. Now that I’m graduating, it’s shows that I put in the work, got done what I needed to do and now move on to my future.” – Madeline Nelson

“As a parent, I am so proud that we can see her accomplishments and have her go through the ceremony, just to say, ‘You’ve done it,’ and be able to celebrate it in person.” – Mary Nelson, Madeline’s mother

“This is a new path to my life. … I feel lucky [to celebrate graduation in person].” – Shijun Yang, who will be attending graduate school for robotics

“Graduation symbolizes the end of an incredibly impactful period of my life. I experienced growth academically and personally in ways I will be forever thankful for.” – Sarah McCarthy, who will be joining the project management team at Periscope

“It’s a major accomplishment. Not a lot of people in the world can say that they graduated from college. That’s something that I’m very proud of, and I’m excited to start my career. I’ll always remember these years. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to celebrate in person. I’m grateful for it.” – Peder Larson, who will be joining Merrill Lynch

“Graduation means that I’m a step closer to who I want to become in the future.” – Wendy Ou

“It will be sad to leave [St. Thomas]. I’ll miss the beauty of the campus and the intellectual tradition that’s preserved here.” – Nicholas Peters, who expects to go to law school or a different graduate program

“Graduation means to me that we’re ending one adventure and beginning another. I’m eternally grateful that I get to celebrate graduation in person. This will be something that I will remember for the rest of my life.” – Jonathan Mortensen, a geographic information systems major, who will be interning with the city of St. Louis Park

March Out of the Arches

On May 21, the St. Thomas Class of 2021 walked out through the Arches to Summit Avenue, symbolizing their transition from students to alumni.

“Just as I’ve enjoyed being on this journey with you for the past years, I also look forward to watching you go from these Arches and do tremendous things, advancing the common good all over the world. That is my last homework assignment to you as a Tommie: continue advancing the common good all over the world. I have extended the due date for the rest of your life.” – President Julie Sullivan

“We have adapted to new ways of learning, new ways of keeping in touch with one another and taking time to reflect on the aspects of our lives that are most important to us. These lessons will prove incredibly beneficial in our lives.” – Abby Johnson, senior class president

 

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