On August 9, 2020, Southwestern Adventist University hosted the Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2020 at Cleburne ISD Jeff D. Cody Auditorium. While the ceremony came three months later than expected with a change in venue as well as safety measures in place, it was a memorable and positive experience that had been long-awaited by graduates and their families.
The celebrations began Saturday afternoon with departmental ceremonies for the graduates from the Department of Business Administration, Department of Education & Psychology and Department of Nursing. While Sunday’s limited spacing meant that not all faculty were able to be present for the commencement ceremony, these smaller gatherings provided an opportunity for professors to recognize their students and wish them well on their future.
Officiating over the graduation ceremony, President Ken Shaw shared, “Graduates, you have constructed knowledge through your classes and interaction with faculty and staff, you have grown in your faith through your personal devotions and a variety of spiritual programming on our campus, and you have reached out to fellow students and the community with your service and acts of kindness. Knowledge, Faith, Service; that is who we are. I am proud of each one of you!” President Shaw added that many faculty and staff, as well as members of the board were joining the celebrations virtually in order to make ample room for families and friends of graduates.
Pastor Buster Swoopes, assistant professor for the Department of Religion, presented the Commencement Address. He reminded the class of all they had already accomplished. “Class of 2020 you are not the class of desperation. You are the class of innovation,” he shared. “The class that got hit, took it and is still standing. The class that does not make excuses but changes methods, changes minds, never giving up on the climb. Greatness is expected because greatness we have seen… You are our hope.”
Zoya Thompson, senior class president, then addressed her class, acknowledging all the struggles they had endured. “The path was not easy, but we persevered. The path was difficult, but we overcame,” she said. “Life will continue to throw us unexpected curveballs that won’t be easy or fun. In the darkest moments when our back is against the wall and our 2020 vision is gone, look up to God. Trust His word. Believe that He has a plan for your life.”
Prior to the conferring of degrees, Dr. Donna Berkner, Vice President for Academic Administration, presented some facts about the class. Of the 145 graduates, 35 were the first in their family to graduate, three sets of siblings graduated together and 25 have family members who previously graduated from Southwestern.
One struggle the SWAU Class of 2020 endured was the passing of their classmate Fatai Eke on December 4, 2019. “Our campus community was and still is devastated,” shared Tyler Wooldridge, Director of Facilities & Athletics. We still mourn the life of this wonderful human being. He was humble, gentle and kind. If you had the opportunity to meet Fatai, you knew that you immediately had a friend.” There was a special presentation in memory of him, and a posthumous honorary degree was conferred upon him. His mother, younger brother and girlfriend accepted the honorary degree on his behalf.
At the close of the ceremony, Jonathan Seitz, Director of Advancement, welcomed graduates into the Southwestern Adventist University Alumni Association. He shared his wisdom as a SWAU alum. “This is a culmination and a celebration of you. I pray that as you reflect on this day and your experience at Southwestern Adventist University, you will have realized that you gained knowledge, that your faith has been strengthened and now you are ready to go serve wherever God may lead you.”
In many ways, graduation weekend was a different experience than it would normally be, but the love for SWAU and for each student could be felt throughout the weekend as faculty and staff took precautions to keep everyone safe while celebrating the graduating class.
Southwestern Adventist University remains committed to providing Christian higher education. As the fall semester approaches, plans are in place for in-person learning. A preparedness plan in response to COVID-19 can be found at swau.edu/prepared-pursue.