A most unique ceremony: Commencement 2020

Bishop Henry Davenport earned a Doctor of Ministry degree.
August 18, 2020

By Bob Holmes

Columbia International University President Dr. Mark Smith told the Class of 2020 that when the decision was made to postpone the spring commencement in May, he “sat in his office and wept as I thought of you graduates not getting to celebrate. But today, we are celebrating.”

“Today” was Aug. 15, and will be remembered as probably the day of the most unique commencement ceremony in CIU’s nearly 100-year history.

COVID-19 concerns prompted the CIU administration to initially announce that commencement would be a virtual event. But many of the graduates voiced support for in-person graduate and undergraduate ceremonies, and they were heard.

Meredith Griffin Osterhaus has been at CIU for five years earning a Master of Arts in Teaching. She wanted an in-person commencement so she could thank her professors.

“I definitely needed to end an era with a beautiful closure with people who have influenced me,” Osterhaus said through a yellow mask at a post-commencement reception in The Quad. “To be able to see them today is just the best!”

A number of coronavirus precautions were taken at the invitation-only commencements in Shortess Chapel, including social distancing between families. Masks were encouraged and made available to those who didn’t have them. The commencements were also broadcast live over Facebook for those who could not attend.

“It’s a blessing to even have this moment because of the crazy season it is,” said outgoing Student Body President Andrew McNeill as he posed for photos with his wife, CIU alumna Ireland Kost McNeill (2019). “I feel incredibly blessed and thankful to everyone who helped make it happen. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be with some of the people I’ve loved and spent the last four years of my life with. I will always remember walking across that stage and thinking, ‘I did it.’”

McNeill also said he’d remember the call of commencement speaker Delaine Blackwell to live out CIU’s core values. Blackwell is a leader of Columbia area Bible studies for women and is a former CIU and Ben Lippen School board member. She was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

And while the graduates’ professors were socially distanced in the balcony and not on the stage as normal, some offered pandemic-era encouragement via video as “Pomp and Circumstance” played in the background.  

“This is probably the greatest crisis in your lifetime,” said Intercultural Studies professor Dr. David Cashin. “It’s also the period of greatest opportunity you may have to minister for Christ. So, that’s my prayer for you as you go out. That you make the most of the opportunities that God has given us right now through this crisis.”

Enjoy viewing a video from commencement on CIU’s Facebook page. Hear the commencement address on CIU's podcasts

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