ELKINS – As most graduation ceremonies went virtual this year, one small liberal arts college in West Virginia made good on its promise to give the Class of 2020 an in-person commencement. The ceremony for Davis & Elkins College graduates took place in the fall instead of spring, it wasn’t on campus and the whole class didn’t share one single stage.
What did occur was the week-long, 11-stop “D&E Journey Tour” where College administrators took to the road and brought the ceremonies to its graduates. Although a traveling commencement wasn’t the College’s first choice for celebrating students’ milestones, it kept with the institution’s hallmark of providing individualized attention.
“It is about the personal experience for Davis & Elkins students,” said President Chris A. Wood.
When it became apparent last spring that an in-person graduation was not possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wood prepared a video message for seniors asking for their input on when they would like to gather for commencement on the College campus. They chose the annual Homecoming and Family Weekend, which at the time was set for mid-September.
An overwhelming number of graduates responded and although each was limited to only a few guests, the expected crowd exceeded 1,000 people – a number much higher than allowable for gatherings in the Mountain State. As the date grew closer and the student body returned to campus for the fall semester, administrators began to re-evaluate their plans with the wellbeing of everyone as the top priority.
“We have a ‘safety bubble’ over our campus, so to speak, and we made the decision to take commencement on the road for the protection of our campus, our alumni, guests and the greater Elkins community,” Wood explained. “In May I made a pledge on behalf of Davis & Elkins College to the graduating class of 2020 that there would be a commencement ceremony. I wanted to keep that promise to our graduates.”
When discussing the options available, it soon became apparent that taking graduation on the road was the best choice. The first hurdle was to ensure the health and safety of our graduates, their families and the D&E contingent. After detailed discussions with the Randolph-Elkins Health Department, appropriate protocols were put in place.
The “D&E Journey Tour” took form with locations mapped out according to regions where the greatest number of graduates reside, and the College called on its friends within the Presbyterian Church community and beyond to secure outdoor venues. The crew was made up of Wood and his wife, Lisa, along with Chairman of the Board of Trustees Mark Barber, Vice President for Enrollment and Institutional Advancement Dr. Rosemary Thomas, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Rob Phillips, Vice President for Student Affairs Scott Goddard and Sport Information Director Josh Hill. Traveling in Davis & Elkins College vans and cars packed with diplomas, caps and gowns, and a 7-foot-tall cutout of the College’s mascot Mr. Senator, the group made their way through four states.
“This certainly isn’t what we imagined an alternate commencement exercise might look like,” Wood said. “And I feel pretty certain these stops weren’t what our graduates were expecting. I think these graduates understand not getting hugs and handshakes from us for their accomplishments. It’s what is in your heart that counts.”
The itinerary was Lewisburg, Charleston, Bridgeport, Parsons and Elkins in West Virginia; McLean and Petersburg in Virginia; Akron, Ohio; and Lutherville, Maryland. From church parking lots to amphitheaters, each of the ceremonies was unique with graduates sharing their experiences of their college career. Standard protocols of wearing masks and observing social distancing were put into action as graduates listened to comments from Wood and Barber, were hooded by family members and friends, and received their degrees with safety in mind throughout the celebrations.
“Parents told me they were grateful that we did this,” Wood said. “D&E is really about people and experiences you have with those people. Celebrating those relationships is what made this so special.”
Receiving their diplomas in Elkins were Tyler Baldwin of Philippi, Bachelor of Science; Chris Berman of Williamstown, Bachelor of Science; Roxine Chambers of Gwynn Oak, Maryland, Bachelor of Science; Cori Coffman of Buckhannon, Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude; Hailey Cogar of Valley Head, Associate in Science with Honors; Carson Crawford of Moorefield, Bachelor of Arts; Rachel Cross of Montrose, Associate in Science; Katherine Doherty of Elkins, Bachelor of Arts; Shania Ellison of Elkins, Bachelor of Arts; Casey Elza of Harman, Bachelor of Science; Abby Fincham of Elkins, Bachelor of Arts; Amy Fincham of Elkins, Bachelor of Science; Tristen Furby of Belington, Associate in Science; Danielle Haynes of Berkeley Springs, Bachelor of Science; Kayla Iseli of Belington, Associate in Science; Leah Kuipers of French Creek, Associate in Science; Jesseka Liggett of Buckhannon, Associate in Art with Honors and Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude; Christian Paugh of Clarksburg, Bachelor of Arts; Sheila Quinn of Diana, Associate in Science; Natasha Schadewald of Davis, Bachelor of Arts; Haley Scott of Mill Creek, Bachelor of Science; Hannah Shiflett of Beverly, Bachelor of Arts, Summa Cum Laude; Nicole Shiflett of Elkins, Associate in Science; Tiffanie Toler of Elkins, Bachelor of Science; Laura Vargas of Washington, D.C., Bachelor of Science; and Sydney Wright of Philippi, Associate in Science.
Participating in Parsons ceremony were: Jennifer Barkley of Harman, Associate in Science; Dominic Bianchini of New Market, Maryland, Bachelor of Science; Gavin Burnham of Woodstown, New Jersey, Bachelor of Science; Lydia Burns of Parsons, Associate in Science and Bachelor of Arts; Richard Davy of Moorefield, Bachelor of Science; Leenette Fincham of Huttonsville, Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude; Corey Mays of Lovingston, Virginia, Bachelor of Arts; Hannah McCauley of Beverly, Bachelor of Arts; Wesley Nickens of Halethorpe, Maryland, Bachelor of Science; Jonathan Stanley of Huttonsville, Bachelor of Arts; AnnMarie Timbrook of Shanks, Bachelor of Arts; and Lauren Elizabeth Tydings of Rio, Bachelor of Science, Cum Laude.
Participating in the Lewisburg ceremony were Katharine Little of Beckley, Bachelor of Arts, and Zoe Sampson of Lewisburg, Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude.
Participating in the ceremony in Bridgeport were: Allison Ash of Wallace, Associate in Science; Sarah Figueroa of Huttonsville, Associate in Science, Highest Honors and Highest Ranking Associate Degree Recipient; Brianna Harron of Rainelle, Associate in Science; Teresa Hart of New Milton, Bachelor of Arts; Lauren Lunemann of New Milton, Bachelor of Science; and Cierra Merrill of Clarksburg, Associate in Science, Bachelor of Arts.
Participating in the Charleston ceremony were Emily Coleman of Hurricane, Bachelor of Arts, and Abigail Sowards of Huntington, Bachelor of Arts.
Participating in the Petersburg, Virginia, ceremony were Kayla Hartfield of Chesterfield, Virginia, Bachelor of Science, and Abbagayle Peterson of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Science.
Participating in the McLean, Virginia, ceremony was Alex Kolb of Lorton, Virginia, Bachelor of Arts.
Participating in the Lutherville, Maryland, ceremony was Clay Weintraub of Towson, Maryland, Bachelor of Arts.
Participating in the Akron, Ohio, ceremony were Daniel Condo of Massillon, Ohio, Bachelor of Science, Cum Laude, and Salutatorian Julia Hancock of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Science, Summa Cum Laude.