Resilient Creativity in a Time of COVID-19

March 19, 2020

In the midst of packing up all of their belongings and saying goodbye much earlier than expected, eight Houghton seniors decided to make the best of a sad situation and hold their own “commencement” ceremony.

The event was held on Saturday, March 14, at Yorkwood House, where four of the eight friends had been living. Former Dean of Students (and Dad of Yorkwood), Bob Danner, was asked to give out the diplomas. “I’ve never been to a commencement where the robes were fabricated from large garbage bags, and the caps were hand made by the graduates,” said Bob in a message to President Shirley Mullen. “You would have been so proud of these students!”


Closeup of the ‘podium’

The ceremony began with a violin processional played by Emilia Blakeslee, followed by the opening prayer written and read by Leah Wilson:

Dear Lord, as we join together on this bittersweet day, we first and foremost thank You for bringing us together – today and for the past four years. You have established our steps in ways that have made our paths cross and align, sometimes diverging but always seeming to run parallel in some way, whether close-by or farther apart. Now, in this final semester cut short, we look to You both in gratitude and in search of solace. All of us have gone through our own challenges, but we have reaped the blessing of the presences of both You, Lord, and each other. We thank You for the blessing of companionship, a comfort in sorely trying times. We thank you for the blessing of the education we’ve received here, endowing us with the knowledge to serve you in our respective fields. We thank you for the blessing of the times to come, whether our paths are clear or our futures are not yet certain. You know the plans You have for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us. Instill in us the sense of consolation so many of us desperately need. Bless us in this ceremony. Spontaneous though it may be, it reflects at its core the love between us, the growth we’ve all undergone here at Houghton, and the nervous excitement we feel for the future. It is in Your name we pray. Amen.


The stage is set

Moved by attitudes of the students during the ceremony, Bob, who had donned his academic regalia for the event, described it this way: “A group of dedicated, hard-working college friends, four years into the experience, anticipating graduation, when an international health situation apparently robs them of a commencement ceremony. How to respond? Be angry? No! Celebrate together with creativity, thoughtfulness, and thanksgiving.”

Also contributing was honorary “senior” Sophie Tierney ’21, who handed out special honors during the ceremony, and was the event photographer; and Kathryn Reitnour ’85, who helped host the event and created the diplomas.


First row, kneeling from L-R: Erica Durbin and Jessica Witter. Second row from L-R: Hannah Pender, Leah Wilson, Natalie Kyvik, Kathryn Reitnour, Bob Danner, Emilia Blakeslee, Lydia Van Kirk and Ellirose Edwards.

When asked what message Bob and Kathryn would want to communicate to this year’s senior class, they said, “Our prayer for the Class of 2020 is that the agony of college interrupted will fade into the joy of college remembered for its significance and all it has come to mean.”