This year’s commencement ceremony at Monmouth College will not be what graduating seniors envisioned back in August of 2016, when they first set foot on campus to attend classes. However, according to the college, it will be “historic and memorable.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monmouth College will hold its 163rd annual commencement exercises as part of a virtual commencement weekend celebration this Sunday, May 17.

The virtual ceremony, which will be posted here at noon on Sunday, will include the reading of each graduate’s name by President Clarence R. Wyatt and Dean Mark Willhardt as well as a keynote address by commencement speaker and social entrepreneur Sam Vaghar.

According to a press release from the college, Vaghar is the Executive Director of the Boston-based Millennium Campus Network, a global nonprofit organization he co-founded with a mission to “bolster students’ civic engagement to tackle poverty, discrimination and climate change.”

“Sam is an impressive young person,” said Wyatt. “He has identified and is pursuing a cause that mirrors Monmouth College’s goals of empowering young people to see and realize the possibilities before them, and to create positive change in all aspects of their lives of work, service and leadership. He is a compelling speaker, and I know that he will provide an inspiring message to our students and community.”

Since he was first invited to give the commencement address, Vaghar has acknowledged that “so much has changed in a very short amount of time” due to the pandemic. Monmouth College says one thing that hasn’t changed is Vaghar’s commitment he plans to make to the college’s community.

“I really am humbled to be able to join with this community,” said Vaghar. “For me, this isn’t a one-off thing. I don’t just want to come on virtually or show up on campus once. I’m really excited to build together, and I want to be a resource however I can.”

Hadley Smithhisler (’20 of Valley City, North Dakota), the college’s 2019 Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy, will also address the Class of 2020.

The baccalaureate ceremony, which is normally held the day before commencement, will be held this year as part of the commencement exercises on May 17.

“We’ve chosen the most memorable and symbolic moments of both commencement and baccalaureate ceremony to highlight,” said Dean of the Chapel the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott. “Including the baccalaureate closer that always makes us cry: Kasha Appleton (’20 of Chicago) will lead the Senior Prayer followed by our Chorale singing ‘A Flame of White and Crimson.’ Be sure to stay tuned in until the end!”

Monmouth College says they’re not new to honoring their students virtually. For the past two months, their communications team has produced other virtual ceremonies.

“Our college’s videographers have pulled together some beautiful end-of-the-year ceremonies, including Honors Convocation and the Highlander Awards,” said Ott. “I know our combined baccalaureate/commencement virtual ceremony will also be beautiful.”

Wyatt says graduates will have the opportunity to do much more than simply sit by their screens or computer monitors.

“We have encouraged graduates and their family members to share pictures and video clips from their home celebrations with us throughout the weekend of May 16 and 17,” said Wyatt. “Our communications staff will work to share them on the college’s website and social media platforms.”

The virtual Senior Gala will be posted at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 16. A live Senior Toast will be held via Facebook Live here at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday.

The Honor Walk — in which seniors present a specially minted commemorative coin to honor a family member, faculty or staff member or a friend who provided inspiration, motivation and support during their Monmouth career — will be celebrated throughout graduation week on Monmouth College’s social media channels. The college says, normally, the Honor Walk is held on the Saturday afternoon before commencement.

Seniors are usually required to make a donation to the senior class gift to participate in the Honor Walk, but for this year, a donor made a gift on behalf of every graduating senior so that the entire class can participate in the Honor Walk.

Wyatt says graduates can also look for a special commencement care package, which will be mailed to their homes and is scheduled to arrive before commencement weekend begins.

“Commencement weekend is one of Lobie’s and my favorite events at Monmouth College,” said Wyatt. “We wish we could celebrate commencement 2020 with our graduates on campus as scheduled, but we look forward to seeing them and their family members and friends at our September 19 on-campus ceremony.”

Diplomas will be mailed to graduates’ homes beginning the week of May 18.

The latest information regarding Monmouth College’s 2020 commencement activities — including the on-campus ceremony planned for Saturday, September 19 — is available here.