The pandemic has robbed all of us of a normal 2020. Unfortunately, that included commencement and our cherished Ivy Chain and Nurses Pinning ceremonies from our Spring graduates back in April.

This fall, even though it looked a little different, we’re pleased to say that we made it. You, our Fall graduates, made it through the most challenging semester ever. You, our faculty, made it through a full semester of teaching online – and, for those of you on Main Campus – in the classroom, in a socially distant manner, in venues that weren’t used for that purpose nine months ago.

Drone footage over Bass Commons showing St. Clair and Dorsey Hall

We’re proud of all of you for facing a number of challenges head-on, and persevering through them.

Saturday, for the first time, Columbia College held a virtual commencement. In many ways, it was just like past ceremonies at Columbia College, featuring remarks from Acting President Dr. David Russell, a powerful commencement speech from MBA candidate Alexandria Allen, and the welcoming of our graduates into the Columbia College Alumni Association.

Graduates can search the college’s commencement page for their name. Just below the main video player is a “Find Your Clip” section. Simply enter your name, then select it among the graduates listed. You’ll proceed to your very own page, which includes an embedded clip of your personal graduation commencement and a link to download for your personal use. You can also share to your Instagram account.

And there was plenty different about it: There were no bagpipes echoing off the walls of Southwell Gymnasium; the Jane Froman Singers’ performance of the Star Spangled Banner was recorded on the Bass Commons lawn; the faculty gave their congratulations via Zoom; and the 342 graduates heard their names read over a computer speaker.

Allen addressed the changes at the top of her speech, noting the tremendous effort the faculty and staff gave to pull the semester off. “One of Columbia College’s values is that higher learning should be flexible. Columbia College has backed their values by providing flexible education through innovation, especially this year,” Allen said.

“I know that some of you likely had to switch from in-seat to online for a period of time, and the staff executed that transition with grace and great care, and for that, we are grateful.”

By way of introduction, Allen noted that she earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, cum laude, last year through the college’s location in Jefferson City, and Saturday earned her MBA with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Stellar achievement, to be sure, yet it was the following portion of her speech that made them even bigger accomplishments.

Allen dropped out of school during her junior year of high school, and disclosed that she had been an addict since fifth grade by allowing fear to rule her life.

Thankfully, she became clean on the Fourth of July eight years ago, earned her GED the following summer, and enrolled at Columbia College – almost solely because it was the name on the diploma hanging on the wall of her husband, Dustin ’08 – in the Fall of 2014. “He put his own dreams on hold to support me and took care of our kids while I was in class,” Allen noted.

Alexandria Allen ’19, ’20 in commencement regalia
Commencement Speaker Alexandria Allen ’19, ’20

Instead of allowing fear to freeze you in place, Allen pleaded with her fellow graduates, as well as any friends or family members watching the stream, is to push through each day, each success, each failure – each moment – until fear that turns into courage. “Just focus on what you can do today, and only today. Put in the work, go to bed tonight, and when you wake up tomorrow, just do same. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

She also credits the current and former staff in Jefferson City with motivating her to continue pushing forward. “CC has always been judgement-free and welcomed me with open arms, endless support and encouragement. I always felt like more than just a body when I walked through those doors to register for classes. I’m forever thankful for them.

Today, Allen lives in Jefferson City with Dustin and her three kids, and has no idea what her future holds, yet she still provided encouragement to others watching, since she was given that encouragement last year during the commencement for her bachelor’s degree. “A year or so from now, it might just be you looking back after achieving those very goals you thought to be impossible, just as I am standing before you today looking back after attaining a goal I thought to be impossible.

“The difference between last year and this is that I’ve changed. CC gave me the greatest give they could give me,” she said. “Not just an education, but the courage to continue forward in a time of great adversity and change. They believed in me, and hoped and dreamed along with me.”

Dr. David Russell in regalia
Acting President Dr. David Russell

Following Allen’s remarks, Dr. Russell began his keynote address by adding his thanks to the faculty and staff for their “heroic work” this semester. “You have remained dedicated to our mission of changing lives, and for that, the members of the Board of Trustees are eternally grateful.”

He reflected on all the challenges that 2020 has brought to our society, including sickness, death, grief, fear and social division, yet lauded the graduates for their perseverance. “You are making it. You are making a difference, setting your own personal example of what the human spirit can accomplish for your family and for your community.

“My charge for you today is to be part of that group that believes it can change the world, and embrace the impossible,” he concluded.

In a warm moment following Dr. Russell’s remarks, the faculty appeared via Zoom to offer their collective and individual congratulations to the Class of 2020, punctuated by a, “We are… CC!”

The ceremony concluded with Jeannie Lahman ’18, a member of the Columbia College Alumni Association Advisory Board, giving graduates their official welcome to the CCAA.

The college’s graduates from the Nursing program also held a virtual ceremony Friday evening, and will soon take employment on the front lines of the pandemic. While 2020 has been anything but normal for them, the difference between now and last April’s graduates who missed their commencement is that these new nurses have a vaccine at the ready. Their future colleagues are already receiving vaccinations, which brings us a step closer to returning to Southwell, and echoes off its walls, sometime soon.

Editor’s Note: A Grad Pack is an easy way to take a piece of CC with you on your next adventure. It includes a professional padfolio and stylus pen, 2020 alumni t-shirt, window cling and a 25% off coupon for a future purchase on the CC Alumni Store. Stay connected to your alma mater and order your Grad Pack at my.ccis.edu/gradpack!