CHESTERTOWN — Cautiously emerging from a pandemic-driven shutdown that began last March, Washington College returned to an in-person commencement Saturday.

It was familiar, and yet it was different.

There were no faculty or board members, students were socially distanced from one another and many of them wore face masks, and the number of guests was limited.

But it was good to be in-person and on campus, neither of which was possible for the Class of 2020.

In his welcome, Interim President Wayne Powell spoke of the challenges and obstacles that had been overcome in the past 14 months.

“You have learned to navigate new protocols and guidelines for academic pursuits, athletic competitions and social activities,” he told the graduates.

“And we all have demonstrated our commitment to one another, to keep ourselves and members of the campus community safe from a virus that has thrown all normalcy out the window.

“You have masked, and socially distanced, and isolated, and endlessly Zoomed from your childhood bedrooms while coming up with innovative ways to stay connected.

“The fact that you are gathered here together as a class, on your beloved campus that some of you haven’t visited in months, says a lot about your dedication to learning and your resilience in the face of adversity. It also says a lot about the powerful bond you have with your alma mater.”

Powell, who came on board last August, talked about the shift in campus culture “as we open up our hearts to one another, as we embrace and celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion.”

He said that if the global pandemic taught us anything, it is that the future is uncertain. There will be loss and disappointment, and we will draw strength from those disappointments.

Keynote speaker Katie Hood, CEO of the One Love Foundation, told the graduates that their path likely would not be a straight line.

She was talking from personal experience.

By the time she was 28, Hood was starting her fourth job since college and had spent two years in graduate school.

Life’s circuitous path brought her in 2014 to One Love Foundation, the nation’s leading educator of young people on the topic of relationship.

It’s a job she loves.

She’s finally figured out what is right for her.

Hood told the graduates that they are in the driver’s seat but are not expected to have all the answers yet.

“The truth is you will probably have to try different things and live in different places to figure out who you want to be,” she said.

Senior class speaker Paris Young talked abut the importance of dreaming, which is life’s work, and the journey that putting dreams into action will take you.

“Leaning into the tumult can be scary, but exhilarating,” she said.

Following Young to the dais was Christine Lincoln, who received the Alumni Citation Award.

She graduated in 2000 at the age of 34, overcoming challenges that included being a single mother.

Lincoln won the Sophie Kerr Prize. Her collection of short stories would be published in 2001 by Random House under the title “Sap Rising,” receiving critical acclaim.

She would continue writing, earning her MFA in creative writing from the University of Baltimore, with more publications and accolades coming her way. She has facilitated poetry and writing workshops for women and teens recovering from trauma and domestic abuse.

In absentia, biology Professor James Windelborn, who engages his students in research examining the cellular and molecular bases of neurologic traumas and neuromuscular diseases, received the alumni association’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

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