By Mari Heithoff, Cowboy State Daily
LANDER – It was like no other graduation, real or imagined, in the 10-year history of Wyoming Catholic College.
On May 23, WCC held commencement exercises for the 36 members of its graduating senior class.
The class of 2020, affectionately known by its members as the “class of COVID-19,” was sent off into the world wearing caps, gowns and masks, but unlike most schools this year, the graduation ceremony was held in person.
Social distancing and necessary protocol played a major role in the weekend’s events, as safety was the WCC administration’s top priority. During the events, each student held a 6-foot pole to keep folks apart.
Like most colleges and high schools throughout the nation, Wyoming Catholic College initially planned to cancel or postpone graduation events due to the coronavirus.
However, as conditions surrounding the virus have begun to stabilize around the nation, the WCC administration revised its plans for the end of the year.
In stark contrast to previous graduations, typically held at the Lander Community Center with an audience of students, family and friends, this year’s ceremony was limited to the 36 graduating seniors and a select few of the college’s faculty and staff.
All commencement exercises were held outdoors at a spacious property in order to allow for proper social distancing.
In addition, the college ordered a large number of customized WCC masks to be worn throughout the events.
Events began Friday, May 22, with a celebration of Byzantine Catholic DivineLiturgy by WCC Chaplain Father David Anderson.
The liturgy was held outdoors under a large canopy. Chairs were carefully arranged 6 feet apart on the uneven grass, and the students shifted with restless excitement in their caps and gowns.
Later that evening, the seniors returned to the outdoor property for a dinner with faculty.
The dinner, normally a formal event with seniors and their parents, was instead held in “zoom formal,” as students — and some faculty — opted for formal dress from the waist up paired with pajamas, sweatpants, and other such non-standard wear.
Tables were spaced apart, allowing seniors and faculty to dine in small groups.
Awards were given by a masked Dean Kyle Washut to students in suits, pajamas, and customized WCC masks.
The Old West aura intensified when the seniors received their traditional Stetson hats, as many of the students were masked like desperados with bandanas over their faces.
As senior Sophia Michael remarked, “It definitely wasn’t what we had been expecting for the last four years, but I’m very grateful we were able to celebrate together at all! Honestly, although the masks were annoying sometimes, we did have some good laughs about looking like masked bandits as we received our Stetsons.”
Commencement began Saturday morning with a tiny audience of a few select college faculty and staff.
The seniors were again seated far apart, and the commencement speaker’s pre-recorded address was displayed on a large screen in front of the podium.
As a precautionary measure, Washut sprayed the microphone with locally-sourced sanitizer between speakers.
The seniors received their diplomas from a masked President Glenn Arbery and the traditional handshake was foregone for the sake of safety.
Despite the unusual circumstances and the masks which hid their smiles, the seniors seemed to embrace their position.
According to senior Anna Snell, “it wouldn’t have been fitting for the ‘Class of COVID-19’ to graduate in any normal way…we needed masks and everything!”
To include family and friends unable to attend, the exercises were live-streamed.
While the absence of loved ones made the occasion a poignant one, the overallmood of the seniors was one of immense gratitude.
Senior Marc Landry, who is currently attending classes in his home state of New Hampshire, was happy to be able to return, if only to say goodbye.
Landry echoed the sentiments of most of the class as he related his thoughts on the events of the weekend.
“I wanted my family there, but given the circumstances and that I missed half the semester with [my class] it was really nice to have a week with just us. It was amazing to get to come back and I am so glad I got to see everyone again.”