Following the conferring of degrees and benediction, the Class of 2021 throw their caps into the air. Pepperdine hosted two commencement ceremonies the weekend of May 21-22. Photo by Ryan Brinkman
Alumni Park took a 756-days hiatus from commencement ceremonies, but in a back-to-back graduation weekend, the classes of 2020 and 2021 took to the stage in a proper pandemic fashion.
On May 21 and 22, the Seaver College Class of 2020 and 2021 had their individual ceremonies filled with student speakers, Regents Board member addresses and a final goodbye from administrators.
“I honestly wasn’t sure if we were going to have any sort of in-person celebration, so I was super excited, masks or no masks,” Class of 2021 graduate Caroline Busch said.
Pepperdine hosted both ceremonies on Alumni Park for ticket-holders only with various social distancing protocols. All graduates sat six feet apart in chairs marked with their names and guests sat in one of two seating options designated by their COVID-19 vaccine status. Vaccinated guests sat masked next to each other and unvaccinated guests sat on designated marked points on the bleachers, six feet apart, also masked.
Graduate and guest attendance numbers have not been released by the university for the two events.
During the ceremony, graduates did not shake hands with Provost Rick Marrs, President Jim Gash or Seaver Dean Michael Feltner, but graduates instead picked up their diploma cases from a table onstage and walked across without touching anyone.
For many graduates, this was the first time they had seen their peers in person in over a year, due to the suspension of in-person classes March 13, 2020 and recently resumed limited in-person instruction April 6.
May 21 — Class of 2020
Almost 13 months after completing their degrees at Pepperdine, Class of 2020 graduates celebrated the end of their undergraduate careers in a traditional commencement ceremony.
Originally scheduled for May 2, 2020, the University chose to postpone the ceremony in a March 16, 2020, announcement after sending students home mid-semester due to COVID-19.
Administration assured students they would remain committed to hosting an in-person event when possible, and Pepperdine went through several phases of dates, from early August, to late December until settling on the final date in mid-September. Commencement for both classes took place late this year due to a shift in the Seaver academic calendar, which provided a 10-week winter break and pushed the end of the spring semester to late May instead of the last week of April.
Journalism alumna Carlie Ott led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Music alumna Emma Ujifusa sang the National Anthem.
The Class of 2020’s student speaker was Payton Silket, former Housing and Residence Life student leader, Black Student Association president and a TEDxPepperdineU speaker. During his speech, Silket reflected on the Borderline shooting and Woolsey Fire and the effect of the tragedies on the Pepperdine community and the Class of 2020. He also joked about life “post-graduation,” noting it had already been one year since the class graduated.
Alan Beard, a Seaver and School of Public Policy alumnus and member of the Pepperdine Board of Regents, spoke as the commencement speaker for the event. Beard encouraged graduates to look forward to the future with hope and faith as God works through each person’s life.
Feltner recognized the class’ honors students — valedictorians Beth Joyce and Joshua Perkins and salutatorian Courtney Merrill.
May 22 — Class of 2021
The 2021 commencement ceremony resembled a return to normalcy as the class came together in person despite being separated for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year.
Although socially distanced, the graduate section was full of students who returned to campus to accept their diplomas.
Business major McLane Moore led the Pledge of Allegiance, and music major Kaitlyn Withers sang the National Anthem.
The Class of 2021’s student speaker was Cameron Lowenfield, executive vice president of the Student Government Association. Lowenfield encouraged her class with a resonating quote from one of her former professors: “This too shall pass.” The speech challenged the Class of 2021 to face future hardships head-on, reminding them that the adversity faced over the past year will only strengthen them in the future.
Brett Biggs, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Walmart, was the Class of 2021’s commencement speaker. Biggs, who sits on the Pepperdine Board of Regents, encouraged the Class of 2021 to aspire to be leaders with servant attitudes.
President Gash interrupted ceremonial proceedings to update the crowd on the ongoing Woman’s Tennis National Championship score between Pepperdine and the University of Texas. Earlier in the week, President Gash and First Lady Joeline Gash flew to Florida to surprise the team and provide a personalized graduation ceremony for the two seniors on the team, Ashley Lahey and Jessica Failla.
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