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COVID-19: Commencement Decision

 

Dear Students,

 

I wanted to provide an update to all of you on plans for commencement. Below is the message I just sent to seniors. We realize many of you were looking forward to celebrating your friends as they stepped into a new stage of life. Our hope is that the Homecoming commencement celebration will provide you with that opportunity. We encourage you to celebrate the seniors as best as you can this May even while we are distanced, knowing that we will reunite in October to more fully recognize and celebrate their accomplishments.

 

Thank you for the remarkable way in which you are caring for one another in this difficult season.

 

Dear Seniors,

 

I write today with a heavy heart to let you know that we will not hold our commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 9. We will confer degrees virtually (i.e., you will officially become graduates of Covenant College) on that day and will plan to hold a full-fledged commencement ceremony in conjunction with Homecoming in October.

 

As you are likely aware, many other colleges and universities have already postponed or canceled their commencements. We waited as long as we could to make this decision, in hopes that the public health situation in the US might improve in time for us to hold our ceremony. At the same time, we are aware that many of you need sufficient advance notice to make adjustments to travel plans, hotel reservations, etc. 

 

Developments in recent days made it evident that we needed to go ahead and postpone our commencement ceremony. You all are no doubt aware that the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the US continues to climb. On Thursday, Chattanooga was placed under a shelter-in-place order. Yesterday, Georgia’s governor placed the entire state under a shelter-in-place order. It was also announced yesterday that the Chattanooga Convention Center—site of our planned May 9 commencement—is being converted into a temporary medical treatment facility for COVID-19 patients not requiring acute medical care.

 

In light of all of the above—along with our sincere desire to guard the health of students, their families, faculty, and staff—we believe it is necessary for us to postpone commencement. I can assure you that it pains us deeply to do so. Commencement is one of the most joyous days of the year for all of us who serve here at the college. Personally, nothing encourages me more than the day when I have the privilege of handing diplomas to and conferring degrees upon another group of men and women who I know will go into the world and do remarkable things, bearing witness in their life and their work to Christ’s preeminence in all things. It makes me teary—in the best possible way—even to think about it.

 

We know, too, that commencement is an incredibly significant ceremony for you as well. That’s why we remain committed to holding a ceremony when we can celebrate together safely, in person, with all of the pomp and circumstance befitting such a significant milestone in your lives. I consulted with your class president, Ian Banks, and several other graduating seniors via Zoom on Thursday, March 26. Knowing then that we needed to have a plan B should a May 9 commencement become impracticable, those seniors provided invaluable input as to how we might celebrate the completion of your work at Covenant and your transition into the next phase of God's calling on your life. I will continue to call on Ian and other seniors to provide counsel to the college, and I encourage you to communicate any ideas you might have about how to execute a plan B commencement with my office.

 

We will communicate with you as soon as we have more details, both on our plans for May 9 and our plans for a Homecoming Weekend commencement ceremony. Given the uncertainty surrounding how this coronavirus will spread and perhaps return in a second wave in the fall, I must mention that all plans need to be held somewhat loosely. In a sense, this is always true. We do not know what a day will bring, ever (Proverbs 27:1; James 4:13–15). I suspect that the current situation has reminded us of the fact that we do not know the future. We make plans, and then we seek to be faithful in the realities of our situation, trusting that we will be able to execute on our plans Deo volente—”Lord willing.” 

 

While I don’t know for certain what will happen in the future—though I must say I am hopeful—what I do know is that you all have been amazing in these unusual and difficult times. No senior class in Covenant’s history has had to deal with so challenging a conclusion to their time at the college. And yet, in the midst of that, you have demonstrated remarkable resilience (dare I say anti-fragility?), and patience, and determination, and grace, and care for one another and the Covenant community. I am so grateful to you for how you have responded to the losses, disappointments, and frustrations of a semester and college career that haven’t ended as they should have. Thank you.

 

Know that you remain in our prayers as you seek to finish well. We love you and can’t wait to be with you. 

 

Below is a message from your class president, Ian Banks, which I encourage you to read.

 

Until God brings us together again,

 

JDH

 

 

My fellow seniors,

 

I am heartbroken for us as we have to endure a far from ideal end to our college career. May 9th, 2020 is the day that we have all looked forward to since August 19th, 2016. On May 9th, we will still become graduates and alumni. Our connection to Covenant is not just a seasonal one. It endures for the rest of our lives. She will always be our alma mater and the place where we were shaped and grown for years together. Though our departure from the mountain has been unique among graduating classes, we still share the same community that they do. We will still be able to return to the mountain and reminisce.

 

This is not to say at all that this course of events is not difficult. The greatest loss in this season is the physical community that we have had to give up. I deeply miss you all. It has been my prayer that you have found some solace in the virtual communities we have had to build. Even though our commencement is going to be split between a virtual and physical ceremony, we will get to celebrate together, and that is a blessing I am immensely thankful for.

 

I look forward to Homecoming with tremendous hope, though these recent days have reminded us all that plans must be held loosely and offered up to the Lord’s will. I am confident that God will bring us together again, and in that time, I will be thrilled to enjoy the great gift of your physical presence.

 

I ask that you would add your prayers to mine for our world, our country, and our communities as we do our best to care for everyone around us. Let us pray that the Lord will bless us through these circumstances and that our postponement of commencement will be successful in bringing great joy and encouragement to us all. 

 

In great hope,

Ian Banks