Averett University, Despite Pandemic, Honors Class of 2020 and Graduates more than 350

Posted on December 12th, 2020 by Travis Dix

In an emotion-packed graduation weekend of historic firsts, Averett University recognized the Class of 2020 in two unique celebrations December 11 and 12.

In response to recent statewide mandates ordering all gatherings to 25 people or less, Averett reimagined its Winter 2020 Commencement to adhere to all statewide health and safety recommendations while still giving its graduates their chance to shine.

“We were committed to reinventing this experience and making this milestone as meaningful and memorable as possible,” said Averett University President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks.

Less than a month before graduation day, the University had to drop its plans for an outdoor, socially distanced commencement ceremony and rally together an opportunity for its graduates to still walk the commencement stage in-person – one of the only colleges to do so.

Averett developed a two-pronged approach that included an in-person opportunity and a virtual component. On the evening of Friday, Dec. 11, viewers virtually enjoyed the many traditions of graduation, complete with the bagpipe introduction by Timothy R. Carpenter, the “National Anthem sang by alumnus Matthew Doss ’07, a welcome from the Averett Board of Trustees by vice chair Dr. Annie Wimbish, ’81, a commencement address from Franks, award presentations and the reading of the graduates’ names and honors by Vice President for Academic Affairs Rev. Dr. Timothy Fulop, the singing of the “Alma Mater” by Professor of Music Dr. Anne Lewis and a blessing upon the graduates by University Chaplain Rev. Skyler Daniel.

“May we all — from wherever we are watching — pause now to experience the magnitude of these moments together today,” said Franks in her commencement address. “Graduates, this is not COVID’s moment. This is not the politicians’ moment. This is your moment. This is our moment. This is the Averett community’s moment to shine in the face of adversity, to endure, to succeed and to lift up those around us who are struggling.”

Then, on Saturday, Dec. 12, graduates were invited to the Averett University E. Stuart James Grant North Campus for an individualized, in-person commencement experience with up to four guests. More than 100 spring, August and winter graduates walked across the formal graduation stage indoors with their guests cheering them on as their names were read aloud by Fulop. Franks presented their diplomas and they posed for a socially distanced graduation photo on stage. Alumni Director Dan Hayes ’92 presented graduates with their keepsake alumni pin, symbolizing their official entry into Averett’s alumni family.

Afterwards, additional opportunities for outdoor photos at distanced photo stations were available around North Campus. Health and safety protocols were followed at all times during the event – masking, social distancing and a maximum of 25 people in a single area indoors or outdoors – and measures were taken to ensure increased air flow inside the Grant Center.

Sports administration graduate Dante George, originally from Milford, Del., felt Averett did everything needed to keep him and his family safe during this unusual graduation event.

“I think it was very safe,” the transfer baseball player said after receiving his diploma. “It honestly couldn’t have been handled any differently than it was…This will definitely be memorable.”

George called it “a blessing” to have his family there to witness this moment in his life, and was grateful for the chance to get photos with friends and coaches.

Margaret Robertson, a Danville native who was both teaching in her full-time job while attending graduate school, received her Master of Education as a reading specialist. She was overwhelmed with emotion after crossing the commencement stage.

“Just being able to walk across the stage made me tear up. This is such an historical moment – with the pandemic and for my family to be here, there is nothing in the world that would have made me miss this,” she said, reflecting on seeing her parents from the stage. “This is a huge moment for my parents and for me. That is an intimate moment I will never forget. I am so thankful for Averett.”

In total, Averett honored 354 graduates from the class of 2020, comprising of 201 spring graduates whose ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions, as well as 43 who finished in August and 111 winter graduates. Ranging in age from 20 to 76, 153 of those 354 were traditional graduates and 201 were adult from the Averett Online program. Thirty were U.S. military veterans, and nine were international students from six countries, including the Bahamas, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The University conferred degrees at both the baccalaureate and master’s level.

Additionally the following graduates were recognized for receiving the Fall 2020 commencement awards:

Traditional Undergraduate Awards:
Mary C. Fugate Award for Academic Excellence: Allison Nicole Haran
Grace V. Crenshaw Award: Katelyn Grace Dewberry

Averett Online/Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) Awards:
Malcolm Knowles Award: Mallory Elizabeth Jamerson
Frank Campbell Award: Timothy Gordon Brewer, II

“This is your graduation. This is your moment when you can be more than you thought you could be,” Franks finished. “Seize it. Cherish it. Make it your own. See the possible. And even if times grow dark, be the light. Be the light that others need to see.”


Editor’s Notes:
To view the full virtual ceremony, click here.
To view the in-person commencement exercises, click here.
To view the Winter 2020 Commencement program, click here.
To view photos from the weekend, click here.