When a small group of representatives from Davis & Elkins College hit the road to bring commencement to the Class of 2020, they had two things in mind: commitment and safety.

Amid a worldwide pandemic earlier this year, it became apparent that commencement ceremonies scheduled for May at D&E would not happen.

“I told our graduates in the Class of 2020 that we would have commencement ceremonies, and I meant that,” recalled D&E President Chris A. Wood. “It had been such a turbulent year to that point, and I made them that promise.”

A rescheduled commencement event slotted for Homecoming & Family Weekend, September 18-20, was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, and then an idea surfaced. What if, instead of graduates coming to D&E, the college traveled to them?

“From our first discussions about the D&E Journey Tour, we emphasized the highest level of safety,” Wood said. “We had returned to campus with a plan that included safety protocols and health guidelines, so those had to be our guides as we planned these events. Mandatory face masks, extensive hand washing, and social distancing were mandatory among our D&E crew and we also required face masks and social distancing for graduates and event attendees. We wanted to lead by example.”

The tour included 11 stops in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland, September 21-27. The events saw participation by approximately half the number of graduates who had committed to participate in the event on Homecoming Weekend, but the tour wasn’t just about numbers. It was about the personal relationships formed at D&E.

“I had made a promise to the Class of 2020 and I wanted to keep that promise,” said Wood. “There has been pretty much a national consensus that this year’s class of college graduates everywhere didn’t get much of a sendoff. We knew these events wouldn’t be the same as commencement ceremonies in May, but we wanted to celebrate our graduates and let them know how much we care about them.”

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Rob Phillips and Chair of the D&E Board of Trustees Mark Barber ’75 were among a group of seven who participated from D&E.

“The stops we made went very well, and I think graduates and families were elated,” Barber said. “Seeing that promise through was important to us and, in turn, it was important to them. We were also able to put on these events safely, which was important because of the strict safety protocols D&E has operated under during the pandemic. Safety was paramount.”

At the conclusion of the tour, each member of the group self-quarantined and tested negative for COVID-19.

“This was about honoring these graduates for their hard work, and we were committed to that,” said Phillips. “Their accomplishments deserved to be celebrated, and this tour allowed that to happen. The events were something positive, at a time when I believe everyone really needed it.”