News & Stories
July 6, 2021

Delayed but Undaunted

Smiles may have been obscured by masks, but nothing could diminish the sense of pride and accomplishment felt by graduates and family members at Berry’s long-delayed 2020 commencement ceremony.

To ensure appropriate distancing, the December event was held at Berry’s home of champions – Valhalla. Although never before used for commencement, the stadium was the perfect place to cheer the ultimate triumph of graduates denied so much by a pandemic that cut short their final year on campus.

“At commencement, I normally remind students that the legendary Berry Bubble is about to pop, but this year, that bubble burst prematurely,” said President Steve Briggs. “And it hurt that the tight-knit and caring community you created and enjoyed so much was forced to disperse abruptly and unceremoniously. So today we have the opportunity to celebrate a combination of commencement and homecoming.

“Class of 2020, it’s a special privilege to have you here on campus on this occasion. We are proud of you, your accomplishments, your resiliency and the way you embraced the challenges of this last year.”

While not all graduates were able to make it back, many did, traveling from as far away as Scotland, Paris and an impressive number of graduate schools and career stops stateside.

Ben Majors (20C), now in medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, spoke for the graduates, praising Berry as a place that cares deeply after relating the story of how Dr. Michael Morgan came to campus in full commencement garb to see him off in the spring.

John Coleman (04C), himself a former student speaker, delivered the commencement address. Now a Berry trustee, he offered insights gleaned from his own experiences managing life’s interruptions. He stressed the importance of being flexible, leaning on others, seeking joy and gratitude in difficult times, and fighting back to our feet when knocked down.

“This crisis will not last forever,” he encouraged. “Countries will reopen their borders. Businesses will return to work. The jobs will come back. We’ll be able to congregate together and sing together and laugh together again. And when that time comes, don’t be hampered by the hangover of this year. Throw yourself back into the world with a recklessness that will truly signal an end to this pandemic.”

Coleman added that the commencement gathering itself  was a hopeful act, stating, “Our goal should be to live fully as people bent but unbroken by a time that sought to assault our spirits but couldn’t permanently dampen the essential enthusiasm that we have for this world.”


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