By Lauren Hand and Benjamin Pontz
We learned last week — to no great surprise — that Commencement Weekend, originally scheduled for May 17, has been postponed. With the coronavirus spreading and no end in sight, that was the only responsible decision. On May 17, the Class of 2020 will still officially be Gettysburg College graduates, but without the pomp and circumstance that typically characterizes the occasion. President Bob Iuliano invited suggestions for how we might celebrate the Class of 2020; in the spirit of, in his words, “affirming just how different this year has been,” we — the two senior editors on The Gettysburgian’s editorial board — would like to submit our idea: let’s celebrate Commencement during Homecoming this fall.
Currently scheduled for September 25-27, Homecoming is a time when, as the name would suggest, Gettysburg College graduates return to a place they have, for four years, called home. For members of the Class of 2020, that time ended abruptly. To some, Gettysburg feels more like a first home, the one for which we long as we write capstones at our kitchen tables, take our classes alone in childhood bedrooms, and feel the acute separation of being hundreds of miles away from friends to whom we never said goodbye. Homecoming may well take on a special significance for members of the Class of 2020 in the years to come, but we submit that it would be all the more meaningful to celebrate our graduation at the same time we return to celebrate Gettysburg with our fellow alumni.
The essential purpose of Gettysburg College’s many traditions, though varied in scope, is one: to create and usher us through a cohesive narrative, beginning, middle, and end. That narrative opened one day in late August, in the heat of the afternoon. Our legs stuck to the plastic white chairs, as our parents, in their best orange and blue, looked on, documenting the end of the long, sweaty day when it all began. Then there was the walk we took from the chapel to the cemetery, as those who came before us cheered from their front porches and the marching band played.
We follow traditions not for their sake, but for our own. At Gettysburg College, traditions give us a way to experience our time as a story: they provide a place for us to begin, and, more poignantly, to end. The narrative arc we have been following has been interrupted, and the story has taken a sharp left turn.
As editors at a news organization, we know well the impact of the narratives we construct. The stories we tell ourselves become nothing shy of the truth. Self-evident as it may seem, we have ceremonies because, for some reason, the circumstances they celebrate feel incomplete on their own. Ceremonies are not about sentimentality; they are about shaping the story of who we are.
“We were unable to walk this last mile together, but we want to walk together one more time. And we want to do it with generations of alumni who came before us in one giant celebration of our alma mater.”
On May 17, we will have college degrees, but we could not imagine feeling anything like Gettysburg College graduates without completing our walk through Penn Hall. There is only one way we can finish our journey meaningfully: the way it began.
Commencement at Gettysburg College, as far as we can tell, has three purposes: first, to award degrees. Second, to gather in celebration. And third, to close the narrative.
At Gettysburg College, we cherish our community and the sense of togetherness we enjoy. The most valuable things we have gained during our four years are the relationships we have developed with our classmates, our teammates, our professors, our mentors, and all of the people that make Gettysburg so special. Though the internet is a powerful tool, there is only one way to gather consistent with these values: in person.
We were unable to walk this last mile together, but we want to walk together one more time. And we want to do it with generations of alumni who came before us in one giant celebration of our alma mater.
The unprecedented circumstances surrounding our graduation demand an unprecedented celebration, not an expedient one. At Gettysburg College, we act in solidarity with one another: we learn together, play together, cry together. We begin together, grow together, stumble together.
And boy, do we want to celebrate together.
This is an opportunity for Gettysburg College to rise to the occasion and set the standard for community in a moment of unprecedented isolation. On the other side of this crisis, we ought to look forward to a celebration of togetherness and a proper send-off into a world profoundly different from the way it was that August day when we began.
In addition to being members of The Gettysburgian’s editorial board, we both happen to be members of the Bullets Marching Band as well. At the end of every football game, the band comes together to sing the Gettysburg College Alma Mater. In reflecting on those joyous times, we think of the second verse as a succinct case for the value of a final gathering.
Whenever thy loyal ones gather
to waken fond memory,
our thoughts shall be turned Alma Mater
old Gettysburg back to thee.
Forever am I thy debtor
and whatever else I may do,
I’ll love, I’ll defend, and I’ll honor
the glorious Orange and Blue.
Over the past several weeks, The Gettysburgian has organized an initiative we’ve called “Great Work from Home.” It has been our way of helping our community stay connected from afar, and it is predicated on the idea that you can take us out of Gettysburg, but you can’t take Gettysburg out of us. Homecoming is a time when Gettysburgians past and present unite around that idea. It is altogether fitting that, this year, the class separated by distance would reunite with similarly-indebted Gettysburgians to celebrate the college we all love. Our families, professors, friends, and the staff that have made our experience so special ought to come too.
It’s been quite a year.
It’s going to be quite a party.