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Students wearing face coverings in classrooms. Desks six feet apart. More than 11,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests administered. Almost 300 students in either quarantine or isolation. No athletics games in the fall. Playing sports while wearing face coverings in the winter and spring. Recruiting a class without visits to high schools. Managing millions of dollars of federal government support. Seemingly endless Zoom and TEAMS meetings. Two Commencement ceremonies.
Academic year 2020-2021 has truly been a year like no other.
I am pleased to report, however, that Lycoming College, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni have weathered the pandemic well. Almost 95 percent of eligible students were in residence and attended over 93 percent of their classes in person during both the fall and spring semesters. Faculty members demonstrated extraordinary commitment to our mission by teaching nearly every class every day in the classrooms and labs. Even at the height of the pandemic, staff members came to work and supported the faculty and the needs of the students. Despite the economic uncertainties of the past 15 months, a record number of alumni participated in Lycoming’s Day of Giving.
The College itself is emerging from the crisis in strong financial position. We are able to continue making investments in the physical campus. Groundbreaking on the new music building will take place this summer, and the facility will be open in August 2022. Two additional labs in the Heim Science Building will be renovated. A neuroscience lab and teaching classroom for psychology will be built in the Academic Center, as well as a graphics lab in the Fine Arts Building. The size of the entering class is on target and their academic credentials look exceptional. Now valued at an historical high more than $230 million, the endowment has benefitted from the strong market.
May 15 and May 22 were memorable days. On May 15, the Class of 2021 processed through the Metzler Gates onto the Fultz Quad and enjoyed warm applause while passing through the traditional faculty/staff gauntlet. Degrees were awarded in the normal way as the provost read each student’s name as each one crossed the stage, shook hands (or fist-bumped), and received a leather diploma case. On the following Saturday, almost 150 members of the Class of 2020 returned to campus to be part of a Commencement ceremony that had been delayed more than 12 months. This gathering also included the traditional processional, and again, I had the enormous pleasure of shaking hands while handing each graduate a diploma.
The feelings and emotions of the two Commencements are difficult to capture in words.
I opened the May 15 ceremony with the simple words, “We made it.” Those in attendance experienced relief, a warm sense of community, and great joy. The final three semesters of the Class of 2021 took place during the pandemic. Many doubted that it would be possible to complete their senior year in person. But we trusted them, and they affirmed my faith in them. They did extraordinary well. COVID-19 strengthened their character, their sense of social responsibility, and their willingness to take care of others. No one in attendance will ever forget the day!
On May 22, I greeted the graduates with two words: “Welcome back.” Throughout the day, the graduates and their families expressed deep gratitude that the College had not forgotten them. There was also a sense that we were marking the end of the pandemic as the CDC had relaxed its guidelines that week and those in attendance were able to shed their masks. Like those who came before them, the Class of 2020 is filled with young people who have great potential, and they are a reason to be optimistic about the future.
Together, the two Commencement ceremonies brought this year like no other to a proper closure. We shared a hopefulness that the pandemic was ending. We celebrated the resilience, compassion, and determination of the Classes of 2020 and 2021. They expressed their love for and gratitude to Lycoming College.
Kent C. Trachte, Ph.D., is the 15th president of Lycoming College.