Recognizing Seniors

Students finishing their final semester at Kenyon this fall take part in a special December ceremony.

By David Hoyt '14

With a processional of faculty members in full academic regalia and students in cap and gown, a Baccalaureate address, and handshakes handed out by President Sean Decatur, the Senior Recognition Ceremony held on the afternoon of Dec. 17 in many ways resembled Kenyon’s traditional May graduations. While the event, held in Rosse Hall shortly after the conclusion of the last day of final exams, was not a formal Commencement exercise, it provided Kenyon students finishing their studies this fall with a palpable sense of finality and accomplishment.

Due to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, a larger than usual number of students — about 30 — completed their coursework at the end of fall semester, rather than the previous spring. The special recognition ceremony provided an opportunity to celebrate the end of their Kenyon journeys alongside peers and in front of family and friends. 

“We are here today to celebrate all of you: your success, your perseverance and your future,” said Senior Class President Grant Holt ’22, who delivered remarks. While COVID-19 upended many aspects of the college experience, Holt pointed out that overcoming the unique challenges of a global pandemic also proved to be a source of strength. “There is clarity in a crisis. Our crisis helped us remember what is real and true and worth fighting for.”

Professor of Philosophy Joel Richeimer was selected by the December seniors to deliver a Baccalaureate address — a speech typically presented by a chosen faculty member the day before Commencement in May, and for the past two years, presented at the same time as modified graduation ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

“When you leave Kenyon, the world will be telling you nothing is possible. Don’t believe it. It is not true,” Richeimer said. “You will meet people who believe nothing is possible. Don’t believe them. They are not right. … If Kenyon teaches you anything, let it be this: Treat the world as if it is Kenyon … where things are possible.”

President Sean Decatur, quoting from Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” remarked to the assembled students that “there are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

“As we stand at the end of the year 2021, and as you stand at the conclusion of your Kenyon careers, this quote resonates deeply,” he said. “Your work [at Kenyon] may open new ways to see the world that continue decades into the future, helping to answer questions that will arise” in the years ahead. 

While a winter ceremony has not occurred at Kenyon in recent years, the event is not unprecedented — the College held similar events due to the upheavals of World War II. On Dec. 5, 1942, the Kenyon Collegian announced “Kenyon’s first special wartime commencement will be held on Thursday morning, December 10, at 10:30 in the Speech Building. … The traditional Latin ceremony will be held and President Chalmers will award degrees to seventeen students.”

Provost Jeff Bowman remarked that having an atypical conclusion to their Kenyon careers may serve this group of students well in the future. “Among the goals of liberal education is to enable you to be able to see the world through different lenses, to explore important questions from different perspectives, to be able to project yourself into the lives of people whose experiences are unlike your own. Your experience as Decembrists might just strengthen those abilities,” he said. “You do not take the typical route of donning academic regalia in May or June. Instead, unlike most Kenyon seniors and college graduates more generally, you choose to put on heavy robes in chilly December — which just makes more sense, after all.”

Holt noted that many of the December finishers “weren’t expecting any kind of ceremony to mark the end of their Kenyon careers. So I could not be more happy that these seniors have a proper sendoff.”

December finishers will still have their diplomas formally conferred in May alongside members of the Class of 2022. For events like reunions and other alumni purposes, these students may choose if they would like to be considered members of the Class of 2021 or 2022, and should email to state their preference or ask any questions about becoming a member of Kenyon’s alumni association.