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Watch Now: Members of the Class of 2020 return to Lynchburg colleges and universities for commencement
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Watch Now: Members of the Class of 2020 return to Lynchburg colleges and universities for commencement

Sara Primm was grocery shopping when she learned she and her classmates wouldn’t have a traditional commencement ceremony in the spring of 2020.

“I just started crying, right there in the grocery store,” Primm said.

Looking back on that moment, the Randolph College Class of 2020 graduate can laugh, but in the moment, it was heartbreaking. Primm was one of many members of the Class of 2020 who returned to colleges and universities in the Hill City during the past few weeks to participate in long-awaited commencement ceremonies after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled their regularly scheduled graduations.

Randolph College held its Class of 2020 commencement ceremony on the field of WildCat Stadium on Sunday morning. About 60 members of the college’s 2020 graduating class of about 140 returned to receive their diplomas in person.

Bradley Bateman, president of the college, commended the Class of 2020 on their patience, agility and resilience.

“You are the most long-suffering class in the history of the college,” Bateman said. “To be specific, I am unaware of any class who has had to wait 12 months and two weeks for their commencement. I know that this wait has been frustrating for you and I wish that there had been a way to make it different.”

Da’Quan Saunders-McNear, Class of 2020 student government president, said he was happy to be back on campus to experience this moment with his fellow classmates and reminded them there is no limit to their potential.

“You have rarity and value even in moments when you do not feel it,” Saunders-McNear said.

He urged the Class of 2020 to advocate for themselves and for others as they continue on their future endeavors.

Saunders-McNear currently is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Primm said she was excited to be back on campus to properly close this chapter of her life.

Nicole Taulton, a sport and exercise studies major, was recognized as the Class of 2020’s recipient of the Maude Huff Fife Award. The award, which is named after a 1918 graduate of the college, is given to the member of the graduating class with the highest grade-point average.

On Saturday, May 22, the University of Lynchburg’s Class of 2020 returned to the Hill City for an in-person, on-campus commencement ceremony.

Kenneth Garren, former president of the university, returned to campus to deliver the commencement address and reconfirm the degrees earned.

Garren was president of the university for 19 years and retired after the 2020 spring semester. Garren congratulated the Class of 2020 on their success amid such turmoil.

“... You have survived. You are resilient. You saw the challenge and you came to it,” he said. “Ten, 20, 30 years from now, they’re going to look back at this class and say, ‘Why did they do so well? Why did they achieve so much against all odds?’ and it will be because of what you have done in your past years. God bless you, you’re going to be the best.”

More than 900 undergraduate and graduate students made up the university’s Class of 2020, and several hundred of those returned to campus to walk across the stage.

Shannon McGovern, a Class of 2020 graduate who studied biology and Spanish, said it felt good and weird to be back on campus.

“We never really got to say a final goodbye, so getting to come back to do that felt great, but it also feels like we never really left,” she said.

McGovern said she currently is in medical school at Trinity Medical Sciences University in the Caribbean.

Liberty University did not hold a separate ceremony for its Class of 2020, but those graduates were invited back to campus to celebrate with the Class of 2021 in the in-person and virtual commencement exercises held in May.

Central Virginia Community College celebrated its Class of 2020 with a virtual commencement ceremony and a drive-thru graduate parade in May.

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Education reporter

Cross covers K-12 and higher education for The News & Advance. An Asheboro, North Carolina native, Cross joined The News & Advance team in January 2020 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.

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