Newman University holds first-ever virtual commencement

May 14, 2020
graduation 2020

Like many universities around the country, Newman University had to make a difficult decision regarding its annual spring 2020 commencement ceremony.

Due to the gathering restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newman moved its in-person ceremony to a virtual setting held May 8, its originally scheduled date.

The virtual event contained all the same pieces as an in-person ceremony with the exception of the awarding of the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. The 2020 honor will be presented to its recipient at a later date.

Filming took place during the weeks leading up to the event in a collaborative effort that included the Registrar’s office, the President’s Office, Academic Affairs, Student Life, University Relations and a large number of staff, faculty, board members and the university’s sponsoring order, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.

Kimberly Long, Ph.D., provost for Newman University, said, “Given world events, it (wasn’t) possible for us to gather in person, but we are so pleased to be able to gather (virtually), in these challenging times, to recognize the accomplishments of our graduates.”

This year’s commencement speaker was Megan Cook, assistant professor and director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program. She was also the recipient of the 2018-19 Faculty Teaching Excellence Award, which is presented annually to a full-time faculty member who has demonstrated an innovative or dynamic approach to courses, course revisions and teaching techniques.

In her speech, Cook spoke of resilience and overcoming adversity. The class of 2020 has gone through something that they will surely never forget. So much of their world shifted from what they knew as normal — and shifted quickly. 

“It is OK to not be OK right now,” said Cook. “But it’s also important to focus on the quality of being resilient and building resilience.

She added, “Periods of adversity cannot be avoided in life. They are expected and can take many forms. … How you react, recover and grow from adversity defines these periods of time, rather than the adverse situations themselves.”

During the commencement, the announcement of the 2020 Leona J. and Harvey J. Ablah Award winners were announced. This highly anticipated award is presented to one female and one male student who exemplify the mission and spirit of Newman University and who show great promise to make a strong and positive contribution to society.

This year’s recipients were Courtney Klaus and Jose Rojas-Montero.

Klaus is a legacy student but quickly forged a path that was uniquely hers, said Long.

“Courtney has been very involved on campus and in the community. Academically, she has excelled throughout her educational journey at Newman University. As a student in the Honors Program, she was named to the Dean’s List every semester of enrollment. … When asked about her goals, Courtney said that she wanted to ‘change the world and impact others in a positive way.’ Clearly, she began doing this during her time at Newman and will undoubtedly continue to do so.”

When she spoke of Rojas-Montero, Long said, “Jose is an outstanding student who personifies the spirit of Newman University. One of his nominators said, ‘Jose’s academic performance, campus involvement and compassion in supporting others on campus makes him an ideal candidate to receive the Ablah Award, recognizing his leadership, service and scholarship.’ From the moment that Jose came to Newman from his native Venezuela, he has impacted the community through his work in and out of the classroom.”

Newman University Board Chair J.T. Klaus voiced a special message to the class of 2020. He presented the graduating class with a challenge: “Be tempered by the historic events of 2020, but do not let yourself be defined by them. The Board of Trustees wants you to know that you are not our ‘COVID-19’ class of Newman University. You are and forever will be regarded as the Newman University Class of 2020.”

The 2020 Spring Commencement ceremony can be viewed on the Newman University YouTube channel.