Western Michigan University held in person graduation events on Saturday, May 1. Photo opportunities and gift bag stations were set up around campus.
“Western has found a really great cadence of how to keep us safe and how to still create during this time especially with COVID,” said Leo Walker, a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Music.
The Registrar’s Office distributed diploma covers in the Sangren parking lot. The covers included a letter from President Edward Montgomery for students to replace with their certificate when diplomas are distributed in the two weeks following graduation.
“This is always such an incredibly special day, to be out here and see the families smiling really is the culmination of a journey and it’s a wonderful experience,” Montgomery said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
Photo stations were set up at four locations on campus: the seal sculpture, the bronco sculpture in front of Reed Fieldhouse, the Miller Plaza fountain and Heritage Hall. Graduates were given the opportunity to sign up for a fifteen minute session with a professional photographer at each site. Each graduate will receive a 5x7 photo paid for by WMU.
English Creative Writing Graduate Sam Ziegelman expressed appreciation for the celebration after a year of an empty campus.
“It was quiet,” he said of the school year. “But seeing everybody around here feels like it's actually lively again and I really enjoy that.”
Gift booths were set up for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health and Human Services. Deans from each college joined faculty and staff to hand out swag bags and pose for photos with graduates.
Over 100 graduates made it to the College of Arts and Sciences booth said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Jennifer Bott.
“As I'm out here now seeing people that I haven't seen in forever I'm just grateful,” Bott said. “If any of us would’ve been asked 15 months ago ‘could we do something like this?’ I don’t think any of us could have said yes because you don’t know what you’re capable of until you have to be.”
The College of Health and Human Services booth saw over sixty graduates said Ron Cisler, the dean of the College of Health and Human Services.
“A lot of people said they ended their last year online and they didn't have the fellow students and the connection with the faculty,” Ciser said. “I think it was closure, I think people needed that and they needed to do it in person, they need to see people, they need to be recognized for their accomplishments. A lot of students and family members you could tell were just beaming and appreciative of that.”
The untraditional graduation events offered new ways for students and administrators to interact.
“This is my first time at anything like this," said Kevin Knutson, the director of Academic Advising for the College of Arts and Sciences. "I’m usually up on stage and it’s very ceremonial; this is just a little more laid back, and I think the students like that.”
Many students are looking forward to their post graduation plans. Felton looks forward to a career with a ballet company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I think Western really prepared me to get out into the field," he explained. "I have a great network of professionals that I have been mentored by for the past four years.”
Ziegelman is looking forward to continuing a book he began writing amid the pandemic.
“It’s a fantasy book about a setting that I’ve been working on for six, going on nearly seven years now,” he said.
Provost Bott traveled to the various graduation events across campus throughout the day. She appreciated how the events were personal and unique to the respective colleges.
“We know our students wanted these moments to celebrate,” Bott explained. “We look forward to continuing to match what we know matters to us and our students in terms of celebration with the public health guidance as we move into our summer graduation and next December.”