CLEVELAND, Miss.—While their final year of college began with many uncertainties, Friday marked a happy ending for the more than 400 graduates celebrated during Delta State University’s Spring 2021 Commencement exercises.
Delta State awarded 284 undergraduate and 153 graduate degrees during three graduation ceremonies hosted at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. in the Walter Sillers Coliseum on DSU’s campus.
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the special ceremonies marked the first time since December 2019 that the University has hosted an in-person commencement exercise. A live stream of the ceremonies was also made available on Delta State’s website.
During the conferring of degrees, graduates received a touchless greeting from Delta State President William N. LaForge before receiving their diploma and departing the coliseum.
Upon exiting, they were met by a row of enthusiastic DSU faculty and staff volunteers who celebrated each graduate by cheering, chanting and waving green and white pom-poms.
“Graduating class, I want to let you know how proud we are of you—especially for navigating the waters of the pandemic,” said LaForge, who gave commencement remarks during all three ceremonies.
“We know you have faced challenges. We commend you for the great job you’ve done in persevering to the end. You didn’t sign up for this type of experience, but we’ve done the best we can to get you to today, and you’ve done your part. We appreciate your flexibility and your tenacity during this very unique and challenging time.”
Jackson, Miss. native Dean Arnold, a candidate for a Master of Science in Sport and Human Performance, sums up his final year as “chaotically blissful.”
“My professors were really there for me. They understood that it was a crazy year and took the time out to do individual Zooms and offer other support,” said Arnold, who aspires to work in social media and marketing for collegiate athletics.
He said the in-person ceremony was a great way to cap off his educational journey.
“I’m really happy that Delta State decided to do this. There were times when I didn’t think this was going to happen, but I’m excited that I’m getting the chance to cap off my final year with my classmates and friends and that we get to celebrate this moment together,” he said.
Jaida Barnes, a Speech and Hearing Sciences major from Silver Creek, Miss. agreed.
Although the year was a “whirlwind”, Barnes said she was surprisingly able to increase her productivity and experienced several high points, including a recent induction in the DSU Student Hall of Fame.
With plans to continue her education in an audiology doctorate program this fall, Barnes said that Delta State has played a critical role in her growth.
“When I came here to Delta State, I was 18 years old, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Delta State has been very instrumental in helping me to find my identity,” she said.
Hannah Miller, an Audio Engineering major from Vicksburg shared a similar experience.
“Delta State made me feel safe and helped me to feel more comfortable in my skin,” she shared.
Despite the circumstances, Miller describes her senior year as “memorable”, receiving the opportunity to intern at Delta State’s radio station, WDSW 88.1 FM, and landing a job as a camp coordinator at the Grammy Museum this summer.
For other graduates, navigating through the pandemic while earning a degree taught several lessons.
Eugene Brown, who finished up a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, said the experience has made him a better educator—something he gained from watching his instructors at Delta State.
“I’ve really learned to extend grace to others, especially my students because you never know what their situations are,” he said. “You have to take the time to figure out what’s going on with them before you pass judgment.”
As for graduating in-person, he was still attempting to process the milestone as he stood outside single file, and socially distanced, with the other candidates as they prepared to promenade inside.
“It’s just a happy feeling getting to celebrate something that you endured and overcame.”
“We like to say that every day is a great day to be at Delta State, and we know that our graduates will fondly remember this day—probably for a few extra reasons,” remarked LaForge as he began his commencement remarks.
“This is the day in which we honor the Spring 2021 graduating class for your hard work, for your perseverance in achieving academic success that few actually accomplish,” he added.
LaForge told graduates that he wished for them a group of C’s—competence, confidence, commitment and concern.
“I hope that you will feel strong about the competence that you have in your field. I also hope that you have confidence in the competence—confidence in your ability to have vision, to set goals, to perform the work and to live the life and be productive,” he said.
LaForge continued, “I hope that each of you is committed to a life that is fulfilling in a career sense, in a family sense, friends, faith and the community around you.
I hope that you are concerned about everything that happens around you, and that you will be an engaged citizen for the rest of your life.”
In closing, LaForge assured the newest members of DSU Alumni that they would always have a home at Delta State.
“Graduates, we honor you today, and I hope that you take the knowledge, the lessons and the experiences that you have garnered here, at Delta State, into a very productive and fulfilling life and career.”