Celebrating 2021

The College’s 193rd Commencement recognizes graduating seniors and marks a partial return to the normal rhythms of Kenyon life.

By David Hoyt

Kenyon’s 193rd Commencement took place at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 21. Held in warm sunshine on McBride Field, which provides more space for social distancing than the traditional location on the lawn between Ascension Hall and Samuel Mather Hall, the ceremony recognized nearly 300 graduates of Kenyon’s Class of 2021.

Due to COVID-19, in-person attendance was limited to graduates, Kenyon faculty and staff participating in the ceremony and a limited number of pre-registered guests. However, all were welcome to view a livestream of the ceremony, which is now available as a recording.

“Facing the enormous uncertainties and disruptions brought on by the COVID crisis, the Class of 2021 responded with remarkable resilience, determination, and passion,” said President Sean Decatur in introductory remarks.

“This has been quite a year,” said Dean of Students Robin Hart Ruthenbeck. “It has been a year in which far too many of us have lost loved ones. We have navigated uncertainty. We have learned to pivot and pivot again — and again. We have experienced frustrations and triumphs.”

In addition to conferring the degree of bachelor of arts on this year’s graduates, Kenyon also conferred honorary doctorates on nine retiring members of the College’s faculty who contributed a combined total of over 270 years of service to Kenyon: Harry Itagaki, professor of biology; Bob Mauck, professor of biology; Clara Román-Odio, professor of Spanish; Peter Rutkoff, professor of American studies; Ed Schortman, J. Kenneth Smail professor of Anthropology; Ellen Sheffield, instructor of art; and Greg Spaid, professor of art. 

“Today we honor the singular and particular contributions of each of these faculty members,” said Provost Jeff Bowman. “In honoring them alongside the members of the Class of 2021, we are prompted to reflect upon what is at the core of our mission, at what defines us and inspires us most: namely, the collaborative work of students and faculty members in shared inquiry and exploration … it is the intimate and inspiring connection between them that makes the College what it is.”

Schortman was also selected by the senior class to deliver remarks. “If you want to get anything significant done in life, you will always do it together with others,” he said, In a speech focused on the importance of collective action. “Pre-judging others, deciding that some because of their age, gender, sexuality, social class, race, culture, or religion have nothing useful to offer you, is the best way to live an emotionally and intellectually impoverished life.”

The faculty address is typically part of Kenyon’s Baccalaureate ceremony but was added to this year’s modified Commencement ceremony. Commencement also featured remarks from Senior Class President Hannah D. Petrich, an Arabic major from Buffalo Grove, Illinois. “Kenyon is all of us. And when I think about all of us, I feel hopeful,” Petrich said. “I feel hopeful that we, as a rising generation, will fight to make this world a more just and equitable place.”

Academic honors included the induction of new members into Kenyon’s Beta of Ohio chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the leading national honor society for undergraduates, and the announcement of the Class of 2021’s valedictorians: Isaac Lipkowitz, Meredith Sauer and Katerina Tang.

The event concluded with a version of Kenyon’s traditional Senior Sing. Professor of Music Benjamin “Doc” Locke reminded graduates of when they first sang on the steps of Rosse Hall nearly four years earlier. “This was your musical matriculation; you and the mass of humanity in front of you that day joined together, letting your song ascend in unison, signifying your acceptance as full-fledged members of the Kenyon community,” Locke said. “Although the pandemic has upended many traditions this past year, the singing of ‘Kokosing Farewell’ remains a distinctive necessity before you depart the Hill.”

View the Commencement program (PDF).