There were no hugs, handshakes, whoops or hollers, but just over 450 students graduated Friday from Fort Lewis College as part of a virtual ceremony to celebrate the Class of 2020.
The event – recorded ahead of time and posted at 2 p.m. – featured remarks from college President Tom Stritikus, Provost Cheryl Nixon, student body President Cody Stroup and a commencement address by Erik Weihenmayer.
Ernest House Jr., chair of the Fort Lewis College Board of Trustees, began the ceremony by acknowledging the lands of Fort Lewis College are the ancestral lands of the Nuchu, Apache, Pueblos, Hope, Zuni and Dine nations.
“We think it is important to provide this narrative because the narratives of this land and region have long been told from one dominant perspective without full acknowledgment of the tribes who lived on this land before it was Fort Lewis College,” House said.
Stritikus acknowledged he was “bummed” not to be holding the ceremony in person, but he applauded the work of students, faculty and staff to do what they could to support and keep the community safe. “You deserve better, but alas, this is the hand that we have been dealt, and we cannot control what happens, but we can control how we react,” he said.
Nixon, recorded standing on campus in full graduation regalia, said she wanted to make sure graduates did not feel like their entire time was overshadowed by the coronavirus and the way their college career ended.
“You have made it across the most difficult finish line that any of us could imagine,” Nixon said
Weihenmayer, this year’s commencement speaker, is a well-known blind adventurer who climbed Mount Everest and kayaked through the Grand Canyon. Speaking from his closet in Golden, he said he knew the feeling of euphoria of reaching a summit and the touch of fear upon realizing there’s another, larger summit ahead.
“Now you’re standing at base camp and looking at this even bigger mountain, you’re thinking about how to build this map and how to navigate from base camp to that summit, and this crisis on top of us makes the building of that map even more uncertain,” he said.
To work through the current crisis, Weihenmayer encouraged graduates to craft a vision.
“It’s not about what we’re going to do, we can’t see the future, we can’t predict the future” he said. “A vision is more about what kind of life we want to live, how we want to impact the world, what kind of legacy we want to leave behind us.”
Weihenmayer told the Class of 2020 to focus their vision and their values outward like a headlamp in a storm.
“What’s within us is stronger than what’s in our way,” he said.
After Weihenmayer’s remarks, the ceremony kicked off with faculty members from each department announcing the name of each graduate.
Before the program returned to the college president, Milepost 30, a country rock band from Arizona, performed an honor song. Stritikus then wrapped up the hourlong program with a countdown for a graduation cap toss, and tossed his cap.