Here’s to the class of 2021
‘This is Beloit’s 171st Commencement, and there has never been anything like it.’ – President Scott Bierman
Every member of Beloit’s class of 2021 faced and overcame tremendous challenges their final year of college. Their joyous graduation weekend celebrated that resilience and looked toward a brighter future.
Even with the pandemic in retreat, Beloit’s ceremonies continued to embrace the academic year’s mantra: “self-care is community care.” The traditional, crowded graduation ceremony was replaced by six smaller events with limited seating. Commencement 2021 was one for the history books, stretching over three days from May 28-30 and featuring a blend of in-person and virtual ceremonies.
The weekend kicked off Friday afternoon with an in-person, inaugural celebration of excellence among Beloit’s Black graduates. The ceremony was held in Eaton Chapel in partnership with the student organization Black Students United.
Alumnus DeVon Wilson’90, newly named associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Letters & Science, delivered the keynote address. He urged students to go beyond landing a career to discover their higher calling–to find the thing that makes them passionate about doing the work they’ll do each day.
A Zoom session hosted by President Bierman followed on Friday night. The virtual event featured Beloit’s 2021 Commencement speaker Angela Moten Russell’99, whose early career in public health and epidemiology evolved into a corporate leadership post.
Russell is vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group, a financial services firm. Her message to graduates emphasized the period of deep transformation we are living through and their place in it.
“The Covid 19 pandemic, the ever-raging pandemic of racism and xenophobia, increased economic injustice, and a climate crisis are all amplifying the fact that we are at a turning point, one that we don’t have the luxury to ignore,” she said. “It’s a beautiful and incredibly intense time, and each of you has a role to play in building a world that will sustainably thrive for generations to come.”
Russell received an honorary doctor of science degree from Beloit.
Two students, chosen by the senior class officers to address their class, shared the spotlight during the Zoom session. Erin Gallagher, a sociology major from Bartlett, Ill., discussed how pandemic-forced introspection led her to discover the importance of self-love. She also shouted out more than a dozen of her classmates by name, noting the compelling work she imagined they would be doing within 10 years.
Ana Kohout, of Lake Forest, Ill., a future teacher and rising star in the disabilities advocacy movement, talked about finding her voice and learning how to use it to meaningful ends. “Beloit has helped me find my voice through education and disability studies, the amazing people I have met here, and by allowing me the space to practice what I wanted to say,” she said.
The Warren Miller Blue Skies Award and Martha Peterson Prize were given during Friday evening’s event. Quin Brunner’21, a champion of Beloit’s campus community and resident “joy-bringer,” received the Blue Skies Award. Superior Murphy’21, a high academic achiever and active contributor to improving campus life as head RA and in other noted roles, received the Martha Peterson Prize, named for Beloit’s seventh college president.
Beloit added a festive twist to the in-person ceremonies this year. Because the pandemic curtailed a fall tradition of seniors toasting their final year at the President’s House, each graduate received a flute of Champagne as they walked off the Commencement stage. At the end of each of the six ceremonies, Bierman toasted members of the class of 2021, who have persevered through an extraordinary time.
“I love Beloit College because I love you,” he said, holding his glass high. “You are Beloiters through and through … You give us hope for the future.” Then graduates tossed their mortarboards toward the blue sky.