Santa Fe Commencement 2020

June 4, 2020 | By Hannah Loomis

President Mark Roosevelt raises a glass to the new graduates.

Saturday, May 23 was a typically beautiful spring day in Santa Fe, perfect for an outdoor Commencement. Like any other year, St. John’s College President Mark Roosevelt opened the ceremony with words of encouragement for the degree candidates. Acknowledging the difficult reality of the current state of the world, he assured graduates: “St. John’s has prepared you for exactly these times. You have what the world needs, and what employers are looking for.”

On this day, however—unlike in past ceremonies held on the Weigle Placita—Roosevelt was speaking to a nearly empty room via livestream from the Meem Library. The one-plus-hour ceremony was a hybrid of livestreamed and prerecorded sections, honoring undergraduate seniors and graduate students from the Liberal Arts and Eastern Classics programs. For so many of us—habituated by this time to endless Zoom meetings—the book-filled room served as a fitting backdrop for the moving tributes given by Roosevelt, Dean Walter Sterling, and Associate Dean David McDonald, reminding us why we gathered in front of our computers.

Following Roosevelt’s opening remarks, Sterling took the podium to present awards and prizes. [Please see the awards page complete list below.]

Attendees were then invited to watch the prerecorded section of the event. New Mexico Senator Tom Udall’s remarks echoed Roosevelt’s in acknowledging the challenges of these times, while affirming the impact Johnnies can make on the world. “We need people like you . . . You’re armed with a rigorous education, emphasizing critical thinking and humanist values. You can take on the complex issues we face.”

The senator’s speech was followed by a recording of Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus” by the “St. John’s College virtual chorus.” The video performance, orchestrated and produced by Santa Fe tutor Andy Kingston, comprised recordings by more than three dozen St. John’s community members from both campuses. Finally, in lieu of the traditional reading of candidate names as each student crossed the stage, the prerecorded section ended with Sterling reading each name as a personalized slide appeared onscreen. Each slide included the candidate’s name and hometown, with most accompanied by a quote, photo, or video message from the student.

The ceremony ended with champagne toasts from McDonald, Sterling, and Roosevelt. McDonald spoke of the hope he feels for the coming months and years, in large part derived from having worked with many of the students: “You yourselves will, in fact, be crucial to developing an invigorated vision for what it means for us to live well.” He proclaimed his belief that Johnnies will play a part in a renewal of human spirit, and a sense of clarity and focus about what matters.

Sterling toasted the graduates in a similar vein: “Our faculty, the Johnnie soul, I venture to say, is not given to excessive flattery or irrational optimism—so please know today that the spirit we all feel of abundant joy, pride, and celebration for your accomplishments, and the great hope we have for what you will achieve in the future, are indeed well founded and well earned. Our college is stronger and better today because you have been among us.”

In addition to the ceremony, St. John’s staff created a celebratory webpage featuring reflections by several seniors on their senior essays; the names of all degree candidates; photos of graduating students; and a collection of videos, including several that captured beloved traditions that students managed to pull off just before campus closed indefinitely. Plus, nearly 30 faculty and staff submitted congratulatory messages for a compilation video—a testament of their abiding appreciation for graduating Johnnies.

As we’ve all forged our way through an ongoing global crisis, we have experienced how difficult it is to express oneself well and to encourage a sense of community through a computer screen. At the same time, being apart can bring special meaning when we do come together, albeit virtually. Graduating senior Bridget Wu reflected on the ceremony: “The whole thing really was so lovely. I think the ceremony was also good for the younger students because it sends the message that they too are cared for and will be celebrated when their Commencement comes.” Numerous people spent weeks adjusting plans to bring this Commencement to life for exactly that reason. Scattered though we are around the world, the St. John’s community rallied under immense challenges to celebrate its students’ accomplishments with true collegial spirit.

We congratulate all the graduates, and eagerly look forward to welcoming them back to campus as soon as possible to celebrate (again)!