When graduating seniors auditioned to be the speaker at their commencement ceremony, none of them expected graduation to be postponed. As soon-to-be graduates finish their college careers Friday, many will enter the real world without knowing when that special day will come.
Aaron Smith found out near the beginning of March he would be commencement speaker, when he figured he would have roughly two months to prepare. But now, he isn’t sure when that day will be.
“I’m probably not going to give the commencement address until August, maybe December,” said Smith, a senior graduating with a major in biology (pre-med) and a music minor. “Who knows?”
Westminster College announced it would be postponing the commencement ceremony March 16, after recommendations from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control prohibit crowds over 50. Rather than shift the ceremony to a virtual format, President Beth Dobkin said she is still hoping to celebrate graduates in person.
“I understand the anxiety and disappointment of having to postpone this milestone,” Dobkin said in an email sent out to students. “Seniors and graduate students will have earned the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and cross that stage in front of friends and family.”
The administration has not yet decided on a date to reschedule the ceremony.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the graduation date, Smith said he still wants to encourage his fellow graduates — letting them know their accomplishments will not go unused.
“Graduation does not define your education,” Smith said. “Commencement address is merely the final brick in a wall of experiences, wisdom and knowledge you have been accumulating over the past four years.”
Aaron Smith, commencement speaker
“What a better time to enter the world with all our skills? The time when the world actually needs it most.”
People often say education is the key to your future. But Smith said he doesn’t like that, noting that a key only opens one door.
This is contradictory with Westminster, Smith said, because students are given a vast knowledge of the world by the time they cross that stage and are handed a diploma — setting off into a world with multiple paths, rather than doors.
“Starting right now, you already have the virtues necessary to use your education in a just manner,” he said. “So do it.”
Rather than opening up one door with one degree for one career, Smith said students can use the knowledge they’ve accumulated to benefit not only themselves but everyone around them.
“Instead of opening a door for yourself, the idea is to completely take away the door,” Smith said. “Allow everybody around you to have opportunities instead of just yourself.”
Although it’s hard — especially as seniors feel they are missing out on that final moment of closure — it’s important to not cower away, according to Smith.
While he has plans to continue on to earn his advanced EMT over the summer and continue to the University of Utah to work for a pharmacology lab, all of that is put on hold as of right now.
So to keep himself busy amid the stay-at-home orders and constant news cycle surrounding COVID-19, Smith volunteers for the Medical Reserve Corps. screening Utahns and testing patients dealing with the coronavirus.
Smith said he’s joined efforts with Maggie Regier and Maya Rockwell — both Westminster seniors graduating in May — working roughly 60-hour work weeks.
“It just feels like I’m helping,” he said. “There was a point where I need to do something. Not just for the idea of helping others out, but also for my mental health. Like, I couldn’t just keep sitting around.”
While he would encourage other seniors to jump in and help where they can, Smith said he’s not here to tell anyone what to do.
“But as a friend to many of you, and a classmate to all of you,” he said. “I am going to ask you to at least do something.”
It’s important to never let a crisis passively go by, Smith said. Let the Class of 2020 be the ones to rise to the occasion as they enter the workforce with their new skills and knowledge.
Students graduating from Westminster have something that is “truly needed in this world.” So, now is the time to step up and act as leaders.
“Don’t cower away right now, because now’s the time where we need every one to stand up the most,” Smith said. “Bring whatever you’ve been working on in your undergrad to the world. […] Everyone has a role they need to fill and the responsibility they have right now is to fill it.”