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Commencement speakers, graduates reflect on a challenging year as they prepare to move on from Columbia

During the morning commencement ceremony at Arie Crown Theater, speaker Hannah Brumfield, who is graduating with a bachelor of arts in film and television, echoed the sentiment of the day.

“Today carries a weight that surpasses typical college graduations,” she said. “Many of us have faced countless unforeseeable challenges long before we even stepped foot on this campus.”

Brumfield addressed the Cinema and Television Arts Department commencement on Sunday, May 12 at Arie Crown Theater. A second and final ceremony for the remaining graduates was held in the afternoon.

The final two ceremonies saw performances of student ensembles from the Columbia College Chicago Commencement Choir and the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble. The music is a signature part of Columbia’s graduation ceremonies.

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For many in this graduating class, the COVID-19 pandemic stripped them of the chance to walk across the stage after graduating from high school. Because many families struggled to find a way to celebrate during the height of social distancing in 2020, this year’s commencement – which fell on Mother’s Day – had added significance.

Ryan Anderson, who graduated with a bachelor’s of arts in film and television, planned to celebrate with his mom.

“In the presence of my mom, of course it’s her day, but right now it’s not.” Anderson said. 

Jonael Leon Guerrero, who graduated with a bachelor’s of arts in film and television, said she was “lucky to celebrate with my mom and grandma.”

For many of these Columbia graduates, remote learning and the shift to online classes once they got to college deprived them of the traditional campus experience their first few years. 

“Today, as I walk with my peers, I have this profound sense of relief.” Brumfield said, “This moment is more than a formality. It is an acknowledgment of resilience, perseverance and collective strength.”

Through recorded messages, Chairman of the Board of Trustees John M. Holmes and President of the National Alumni Board Karen L. Jones encouraged graduates to “pay it forward” as they prepare for the next steps in their lives. 

Breyona Smith, who is graduating with a bachelor of arts in film and television, is planning to take post-graduate plans day by day.

“At the end of the day, I’m just gonna get some grocery store sushi and pop some bottles and just chill,” said Smith.

Despite the relaxed plans for some, the graduation ceremonies were marked by moments of reflection and inspiration, as Raymond E. Crossman, president of Adler University, received an honorary degree and shared his wisdom with graduates at both ceremonies.

He encouraged graduates to draw on their own experiences, reflecting on his life growing up through the AIDS epidemic as a gay man. 

“At the time I didn’t know these experiences would be assets, but I know now that those are my credentials to work and lead,” he said. “You’ve experienced challenges, you’ll experience more. How you negotiate that challenge defines who you are. These are your assets, your resume to lead.”

Crossman is the longest-serving LGBTQ+ university president, and in 2017, became the first university president to disclose his HIV status publicly. Crossman will be retiring from the position after 21 years.

This also marked the last graduation weekend under President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, who will be stepping down from the presidential position on July 1. 

Kim gave a few remarks to graduates, encouraging them to “use both your heart and mind” as they make decisions moving into the next phase of their lives.

“Never forget, the world needs you, so let your light shine,” he said.

In a sign of the transition that will take place in the coming months, Jerry Tarrer, senior vice president of business affairs and CFO, gave the main address to graduates and handed out degrees. 

Tarrer advised graduates to use the strength it took to complete their time at Columbia and to “take the adversity in life in stride, grow your resilience, become pillars to support the people in your lives.”

Tarrer commended graduates for their achievements and reflected on the tumultuous year Columbia had faced, recognizing the challenges, but emphasizing the college’s determination through hardship.

“Columbia, our cherished college, has faced and endured many challenges over its long history, perhaps none greater than what we’ve gone through this past year,” said Tarrer. “Nevertheless, on the eve of the 135th anniversary of our beloved college, we know that we will persevere and continue to serve as a destination for creative minds for many years to come.”

Kymeisha Perot, graduating with a bachelor’s of arts in film and television, wanted to soak in the moment.

“I’m feeling accomplished and I’m feeling so grateful,” said Perot. “I’m happy at this moment I worked so hard to make this happen, so thank you to Columbia and thank you to me.”

 

Copy edited by Lily Thomas.

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About the Contributors
Patience Hurston
Patience Hurston, Editor-in-Chief
phurston@columbiachronicle.com   Patience Hurston is a junior journalism major, minoring in Black World Studies. Hurston has reported on student loan forgiveness, changes with campus building policies and has written film reviews. They joined the Chronicle in June 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Emily Ramirez
Emily Ramirez, Audience Engagement Editor
eramirez@columbiachronicle.com   Emily Ramirez is a junior marketing major, with a minor in graphic design. She has reported on Columbia's unions and art exhibits in Chicago. Ramirez joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Trevor, Wisconsin
Peyton Reich
Peyton Reich, Photojournalist
preich@columbiachronicle.com   Peyton Reich is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in marketing. Reich has covered the Mexican Independence parade, Columbia's Black Student Union and theatre performances. Reich joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Flossmoor, Illinois
Kaelah Serrano
Kaelah Serrano, Photojournalist
kserrano@columbiachronicle.com   Kaelah Serrano is a junior photojournalism major. She has covered music festivals, campus art exhibitions and metro parades and protests. Serrano joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois