The Best Of It

Emotions high over Saturday’s commencement alternative

If you could multiply Maggie Knier’s heartbreak by about 2,000, it would give you an idea of the task the University took on Saturday to lighten the disappointment of a cancelled Spring graduation commencement ceremony.

Knier, along with five others, had been slated to give a commencement speech, hers for the College of Business. Having been home-schooled and missing out on a high school graduation as a result, the business graduate was devastated, she said, at the cancellation of her college ceremony.

Kallie Miller, 2020 graduate. “I am so thankful for my time at Minnesota State University, Mankato and appreciate all of the efforts that they are putting into making graduation special despite our current circumstance. “

By graduation day, though, Knier and 2,200 graduating Mavericks received by mail their “Commencement in a Box.” The purple-and-gold box contained a number of mementos for the big day, including personalized greetings from President Richard Davenport, gifts from the University and the Alumni Association and a diploma cover.

“Commencement in a Box” was shipped to every graduate.

In addition to the postal delivery, graduates were emailed an inspirational, congratulatory video in which the recipient’s name appears three times. Also sent was access to a University Web Site launched on the morning of commencement that, among other features, had videos of Knier and each of the commencement speakers delivering their speeches.

As it all landed, the range of emotions was wide.

“I am so impressed that the University went above and beyond to make this day special and to make every graduate feel important and seen, especially during a time of great isolation,” said Holly Dodge, who like Knier had her commencement address filmed earlier for release on the new web page.

“I was lucky enough to be joined by friends this morning via Zoom. We watched the personalized videos the university created and there were a few happy tears shed…Every part of this historic commencement felt truly heartfelt and thoughtful.”

Business graduate and commencement speaker Maggie Knier.

Knier’s disappointment remained throughout the day, she said, coupled by the fact that she was not able to gather with friends and family to celebrate. “I shed a few tears this morning,” she said.

“I appreciated the effort the University went to in order to put together commencement in a box and the online graduation website and it definitely made it more special than it would have been without,” Knier said, “but obviously nothing can really compare to the actual, real-life commencement ceremony.”

Kristina Lassetter, communications studies graduate.

Soon after the March 19 decision that commencement would be cancelled, University staff, in a measure led by Vice President of Advancement Kent Stanley, made it a mission that this graduating class would not feel passed over.

In a teaser campaign, the University in April began sending emails encouraging graduates to keep an eye out for something special in the weeks ahead. More emails followed. Social media posts with vague photos of some sort of purple and gold boxes were posted.

Then, on the week of May 4, the individual boxes were sent via U.S. Mail to all seniors who had applied for graduation.

“We understand how many are heartbroken and disappointed, because they’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” President Richard Davenport said. “This was a small token of our appreciation of their hard work.”

A vital component of all the mailings, Davenport said, was the invitation to a December commencement for the spring graduating class of 2020. In addition to the two ceremonies that typically take place in December, a third will be added to the day to honor spring graduates.

“For me,” Interim Provost Matt Cecil said, “the guiding principle is to provide the [mailings] so people can have a special day, but also a promise that we will provide them in the future with a really special day.

Graduate Erin Kost.

“That’s my hope,” he added, “that we give them the moment to walk across the stage that they deserve.”

Meanwhile, plenty of students posting photos to #mavgrad2020 appeared to be celebrating.

“Online graduation is a bittersweet end to four years of hard work,” said exercise science graduate Baily Stroud. “I feel that the University has tried to make the best of the situation, and find a way to still make things special.”

Communications studies graduate Kristina Lassetter said the best was made of a sad situation.

“I feel proud of the efforts the University put forth with the swag box, email updates, and website that we could share with our friends and families,” Lassetter said.

“The pandemic was the fault of no one here,” she added, “but the university sure did step up.”