Patil Tcholakian, Special to The Denisonian, —

Due to COVID-19, this year’s senior class’s time on campus was abruptly cut short. They could not finish out their last college classes, last college games, last college performances and could not celebrate senior week. Although they were deeply saddened by not finishing out their last semester on the Hill, they continued to be optimistic about something important — graduation. President Adam Weinberg announced earlier last month that graduation would be postponed. Denison instead conducted a virtual conferral of degrees on Saturday, May 16 with Weinberg speaking, student speaker Michaela Morrison ‘20, and this year’s surprise keynote speaker.

Notable Denison alumni include Jennifer Garner ‘94, famous actress and last year’s commencement speaker, Michael Eisner ‘64, former Disney CEO plus namesake for our new performing arts building and Alex Moffat ‘04, current Saturday Night Live cast member. Not bad. 

Every year the senior class anxiously anticipates the announcement of the keynote speaker, and this year was no different. Graduating Denisonians hoped for someone special, and were delivered with the surprise speaker, the famous actor Steve Carell ‘84. His commencement address brought hope and optimism to the class of 2020. Even though this important moment was taken from them, having Carell speak to them made it much more special. He gave a message of kindness in a time that seems unkind and a message of laughter when it has been hard to laugh. 

His advice was to “Use this moment and embrace it as opposed to resenting it.” His last remarks to the class of 2020 is, “Try to remember to be kind. Remember to take care of one another, laugh when you have the opportunity, and cry when you have to.” 

Seniors at home with their families thought, “Steve Carell was a great part of commencement because he gave us all a laugh and made us smile,” said Claire Kolff ‘20.  “He is someone that I know my class had wanted to come to our graduation, so I think his presence showcased how much we as a class meant to Denison and the alumni.”

Claire Kolff ’20 stepping on the seal with friends, a tradition for Denison graduates that mark the end of the curse of “not graduating” if one steps on the Denison University seal.
Photo courtesy of Patil Tcholakian

Seniors warmly welcomed the less than serious commencement speech, which is known to be long and tedious at times as speakers try to impart some wisdom to a hard to reach audience — especially after having such a tumultuous semester.  “It was such a cool experience having one of the well known alumni speak to us,” Jamie Swickard ‘20. It made it all the more special! His speech was hysterical, but also reminded all of us why we love Denison so much and why it was so hard to leave in March,” she said. 

Two graduates tossing their caps in front of Swasey
Jamie Swickard ’20 celebrating post-commencement with throwing their graduation caps with Zoe Pearce ’20 (left).
Photo courtesy of Patil Tcholakian

Although the class of 2020 conferred their degrees during a challenging moment in time, they learned to adapt, to take this information and this moment to set new opportunities, and to seize the moment. These chaotic moments are helping the senior class pave the path to a successful future. Even though many are hoping to have an on campus ceremony in the late summer, this conferral of degrees will be something they will be hard to forget both because of Carell’s surprise and the circumstances. 

Just as they will not forget this special day, we most definitely will not forget this special class of seniors. As Weinberg mentioned that this year’s senior class is a remarkable generation of Denisonians, it is something we can all attest to. Congrats to the class of 2020!

Editor’s note: The in-person commencement for the class of 2020 was announced on June 17 2020 to be scheduled on May 30, 2021.