Beloit’s class of 2021 persevered through an unprecedented final year of college. Their joyous graduation weekend, which included online events, six smaller, in-person Commencement ceremonies, a special celebration of Beloit’s Black students, and even a Champagne toast, felt like the community had turned a corner.
To accommodate physical distancing, Commencement weekend 2021 stretched over three days in late May.
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. Graduates Kiara Davis, Aryssa Harris, and Eva Laun-Smith were selected to address their peers.
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 looking for a career to discover their higher calling, to find what makes them passionate about their work.
A Zoom session hosted by President Bierman followed on Friday night. The virtual event featured 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.
“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.” — Commencement speaker Angela Moten Russell’99
Russell received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Beloit.
And the Champagne? The toast added a festive and defiant finish to the in-person ceremonies after the pandemic prevented the senior toast, a cherished fall tradition normally held at the President’s House. Bierman toasted members of the class of 2021 at the end of each ceremony.
“I love Beloit College because I love you,” he said. “You are Beloiters through and through … You give us hope for the future.” Then graduates tossed their mortarboards toward the cloudless blue sky.
- Commencement speaker: Angela Moten Russell’99, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at financial services firm CUNA Mutual Group.
- Two student speakers: Erin Gallagher, from Bartlett, Ill., is headed to law school; Ana Kohout, of Lake Forest, Ill., is a future teacher and rising star in the disabilities advocacy movement.
- Warren Miller Blue Skies Award: Quin Brunner, Austin, Minn., an interdisciplinary studies major in Community Development and a campus community champion.
- Martha Peterson Prize: Superior Murphy, Milwaukee, Wis., a high academic achiever and active contributor to improving campus life as head RA and in other leadership roles.
Black Student Graduation, held on Commencement weekend, unfolded in a celebratory, balloon-filled Eaton Chapel for the first time at Beloit. Black student members of the class of 2021 collectively formed an outstanding group of leaders and high achievers, including a Fulbright Student Scholar, the 2021 Martha Peterson Prize winner, two All-America athletes, and future graduate students, artists, lawyers, teachers, scientists, activists, and world changers.