students walking on a sidewalk in graduation robes and caps

Graduating senior pens opinion piece about Class of 2020

Kaci Schneidawind is a member of the Bethany Class of 2020. She’s also a writer for the student paper The Bethany Scroll. Schneidawind has penned many articles for the paper throughout her four years at Bethany, but maybe none more important than this, her final piece, an opinion about the fate of the Class of 2020. Congratulations, Kaci, and all of Bethany’s May 2020 graduates!

Opinion: Seniors should swap sorrow for gratitude

By Kaci Schneidawind

Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Desperation. I felt all of these emotions and more on the evening of March 25, when Bethany president Gene Pfeifer announced in an all-campus email that classes would not continue on campus, and that May’s commencement ceremony was cancelled.

Kaci Schneidawind portrait
2020 graduate Kaci Schneidawind

Part of me had been expecting this exact announcement, but I was still unprepared for it at the same time. Just two weeks earlier, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz had ordered public schools throughout the state to close temporarily, so I wasn’t too surprised when Bethany did the same by extending our spring break. My mother had the foresight to warn me to be prepared to not go back to Bethany as a student — ever. The mere thought made tears come to my eyes.

Now here we are, over a month later, and the coronavirus pandemic has only gotten worse. Moving to online classes was the best decision to make, even though it may not have seemed that way at the time.

This disease accelerates and evolves each and every day, so the most important thing to do right now is to quarantine and practice social distancing, which would be next to impossible at any school, let alone at such a small campus.

What does hurt about this decision, though, is the fact that this is my senior year. Suddenly, my time at Bethany was over without having said a single goodbye — to friends, to professors, to roommates. Never again would I hang out in the Pub Hub, study in the library, eat in the caf, work in the Writing Center or physically attend a class.

The lack of closure has been the hardest thing for me to come to terms with during this time. Also, never in a million years did I imagine that this would be the topic of my last story written for the Scroll. (Of course, I was always expecting these goodbyes and all the “lasts” — just two months later than when they happened.)

What hurt the most, however, was the cancellation of Spring Commencement. While that was the right call for everyone’s health and safety, it has been a bitter pill to swallow. I, along with the rest of the class of 2020, worked so hard for four years only to have that day of recognition taken abruptly away from us.

My fellow seniors, you are allowed to grieve the loss of our graduation as I have grieved it. Your feelings are real, and they are valid. It would be easy to feel guilty for being upset about this seemingly trivial thing during a pandemic, but your reactions are not only rational, they are justified.

As I was processing the news from President Pfeifer, one of my first thoughts was to wonder why commencement was cancelled, instead of being postponed, as had been done by other colleges and universities. Then, about a week and half later after his initial message, President Pfeifer sent a special note to Bethany seniors.

He began the letter by sincerely apologizing for the cancellation of commencement, and went on to explain that the administration had explored other options for graduation, such as holding it virtually. Ultimately, they came to the conclusion that inviting our graduating class to walk at the commencement ceremony in December was the most sensible solution.

I remember reading that letter and feeling relief for the first time in a long time. I read about how the administration plans to make the December commencement feel more like the May commencement, with a “grand ceremony” in the gymnasium, along with a Graduate Luncheon and Vespers Service on the previous day.

What this tells me is that the president and administration are committed to creating a graduation experience that can live up to what we would have had in May. It also just goes to show how special Spring Commencement is at Bethany, which is a big reason why I have looked forward to graduation day for so long.

The celebratory atmosphere, along with the presence of professors, the college’s band and choir and family make it a day to remember. I went to Spring Commencement last year and was excited at the thought of being part of such a momentous occasion — as a graduate, no less.

I really appreciate the thought and effort that they have put into this; by modeling the December ceremony after the Spring’s, basically the same events will be taking place, just during a different month.

So, to the graduating class of 2020, I want to say this: even though we will not be walking across the stage next month, we have the opportunity to do so eventually. That is something to look forward to. I also encourage you all to focus on and be grateful for the four years that we have spent learning, growing and living at our beloved Bethany, as I have been trying to do.

I was so immensely blessed to have been a student at a place like Bethany. I will hold the memories and friendships I made there in my heart forever. The day in which I return to this wonderful campus community cannot come soon enough, and I am sure you all feel the same way.

If nothing else, our class will sure have some interesting stories to share at our reunions down the road, right? In all seriousness, I am so proud of us all for getting through this tough time against all odds.

No matter what, we are graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree (!!!), and no one can take that incredible accomplishment away from us. I hope that you feel proud of yourselves, too. We did it.