By Barbara Kay
The graduation sign welcoming alumni (Photo by Barbara Kay)
The wind nipped at your nose stepping into the Performing Arts Center (PAC), but the pride in the lobby filled you with warmth as you were asked, “Are you class of 2020 or 2021?”
Students in caps and gowns may have left Purchase a year or two ago, but their parents fiddled with their tassels and posed them for the pictures they’d been anxiously waiting to take.
“I haven’t been [at Purchase] since we went online,” said Chynah Winter, 2020 alumnus. “I didn’t even know they were doing construction! I’m so excited, I’m shocked to be here.”
Winter had returned to Purchase for the combined in-person commencement ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021– who were previously given virtual ceremonies at the time of their designated graduations. Winter had made a petition to get the pandemic graduates an in-person ceremony over the summer. Graduation was held in the PAC on Friday, Sept. 30.
“We had talked for some time about having a commencement celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021,” stated Amanda Walker, vice president of institutional advancements. “Unfortunately, our original plans had to be postponed due to the rise in COVID cases last year.”
“By the time I arrived, we were certainly aware through multiple conversations and correspondences with students and parents about the strong desire to hold a commencement event and take part in that important ritual,” she continued. “Once I was in place, it became a top priority. We were delighted by the turnout and based on feedback from those who attended, it was a joyful and meaningful experience for our graduates and their families.”
Chynah Winter, who created a petition for an in-person ceremony, with her family (Photo via Chynah Winter)
“You can tell the energy is fun, and the parents are so grateful,” said Milagros Peña, president of SUNY Purchase. “The energy and smiles say it all to me.”
Some alumni however, felt that the timing of graduation was unfortunate, as the ceremony landed on a Friday–a work day.
“Why did they place the graduation ceremony for alumni on a Friday?” wondered Kelly Annice Allen on the Facebook Open Forum. “My family can’t even come because they’re working,” they continued.
Alumni who were able to attend the event could also reconnect with the faculty members who helped them get their degrees.
An alumni’s decorated graduation cap (Photo by Barbara Kay)
“Wear the [graduation] gown, this is your moment,” said Lorraine Miller, office manager and administrative assistant with the film and media department, to Jessica Gordon, a 2020 film graduate.
“I felt like I wanted to close this chapter, and celebrate it since it was so washed over,” said Gordon, referring to the virtual ceremonies. “It’s weird [to be back] especially since it was so intense leaving.”
The graduates were called to enter the Concert Hall, and as they processed in, the Latin Jazz Orchestra played a lively tune.
The graduates were met with cheers as they sat on stage; some were wearing mismatched caps and gowns, only a cap or gown, and some wore plain clothes looking as if they had just strode across the Great Lawn yesterday.
The graduates on stage with the Jazz Orchestra, and Pres. Peña at the speaker’s podium (Photo by Barbara Kay)
The keynote speaker was Jason Rodriguez, a 2012 graduate, and actor on programs such as “Pose,” and the “Get Down.” He is also an active participant in the ballroom scene and teaches a class on the dance style "voguing" at Purchase.
“Somehow I knew I had power and control over one thing, the continuation, and exploration of my craft– once again, my craft, meaning your craft is yours,” Rodriguez said. “There is no end to how much time you put into it and allow it to gift you.”
“I didn’t plan [for acting roles] but I prepared for [them],” he continued. “Prepare for what’s to come in your life, the good, the bad, the sad, and maybe nowhere close to what you planned. But your training enforces your road, even if you can’t see the stops. Life is a gamble so play the game right.”
The Soul Voices Choir, led by a class of 2000 alumni Knoelle Higginson, joined the stage. To the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” they sang, “Oh, at Purchase College, you’re going to let it shine…Tap your neighbor, you’ve got to let it shine.”
As the graduates left the stage, they were met with whoops and hollers of congratulations for their accomplishments - a praise long at last deserved.