“As you lined up for the procession and saw one another maskless for the first time in months, you performed the sacred, boisterous rituals of college friendship. You high-fived, shook hands, and hugged one another without fear or guilt,” Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, told students and their loved ones on Saturday at the first of four diploma ceremonies for the Class of 2020. “Now, you sit in honor at the center of Edwards Parade … Savor the moment. Capture every rich detail of it: its sounds, its images, its emotions, so that you can store them away in your hearts. For my friends, I promise you that this is a day that you will tell your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren about.”
More than 1,200 undergraduate students from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and the Gabelli School of Business returned to the Rose Hill campus for in-person diploma ceremonies. It was the fulfillment of a promise that Father McShane had made to the Class of 2020 when traditional in-person festivities were cancelled due to the pandemic last year—a promise to celebrate the “visionary dodransbicentennial Class of 2020” when the time was right.
“You, my friends, receive your diplomas after the terrible ordeal of the past fifteen months,” said Father McShane, standing atop Keating Hall’s terrace, to the graduates seated on the lawn below. “You receive your degrees at a time when the city that never sleeps slept, a year that was for you a non-stop, non-credit-bearing internship in the meaning of life. Therefore, in the course of your capstone away from your campus in senior year, you have discovered what is really important in life: faith, family, virtue, love, truth, and character.”
‘I’ve Waited Over a Year For This’
In four separate ceremonies, students streamed past Keating Hall to the familiar music of Pomp and Circumstance while waving and blowing kisses to their family and friends in the audience. Guests moved their lawn chairs beneath the trees surrounding Edwards Parade—the temperature sometimes soared past 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and shade was scant—but many people stood beside the metal guardrails in the middle of the lawn, hands shielding their faces from the sun, waving cardboard cutouts of their children and raising their smartphones to capture a moment that was one year late, but never to be forgotten.
While waiting in line before the ceremonies, students reflected on what this day meant to them.
“I graduated at my desk, I worked at my desk—everything happened at my desk. I’m still working at my desk,” said William Kann, GABELLI ’20, an information systems major from New Rochelle, New York, who has worked remotely as a data analyst for health care marketing company Veeva Systems since July. “But I’m really excited. I’ve waited over a year for this.”
Erik Gonzalez, FCRH ’20, an economics major and aspiring CPA who is working at a New York City public accounting firm, said it was “meaningful” that his mother would be able to see him walk across the stage, since he’s a first-generation college student. He appreciated the University holding the in-person ceremony and being able to see friends in person after the “rough goodbye” in March 2020.
A ‘Full Circle’ Moment with a Roommate of Four Years
Gabrielle Pfeffer, FCRH ’20, said it was like coming “full circle” to be walking in the procession with her best friend and roommate for four years, Presley Mekeel, whom she met on her first day at Fordham at orientation.
“We hadn’t been on campus for over a year, and I was excited to see all my friends and see the beautiful graduation ceremony,” said Pfeffer, a biological sciences major from Baltimore who is attending podiatry school this fall. “We left so abruptly, so it’s like an end to our journey here.”
Mercy Adoga, FCRH ’20, a political science major and a current student in Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service who is virtually interning with an immigration lobbyist in Washington, D.C., said she was “happy, relieved, and just really grateful to be here.”
Kimberly Larios, FCLC ’20, a psychology major who will become a nursing student at New York University this fall, said she is most grateful to her parents, who flew from Los Angeles to New York to celebrate their daughter.
“They never told me no. I wanted to move to New York at 18, and they didn’t try to stop me,” Larios said. “They said, ‘We’re happy if you’re happy.’”
Francisco and Maria Menendez, parents to another Fordham College at Lincoln Center graduate—Bernadette Menendez—said their daughter commuted as early as 7 a.m. on a ferry and bus from New Jersey to Manhattan for four years. But Bernadette, a political science major who will be attending law school at Seton Hall University this fall, loved Fordham so much that she visited campus almost every day.
“She’s going to be a Pirate soon,” said Maria of her river-crossing daughter. “But we have Fordham in our hearts.”
‘Thank You for Being Fordham’
In speeches to their former classmates, graduating seniors reflected on their fondest memories at Fordham. Tina Thermadam, former president of United Student Government at Lincoln Center, recalled the day she first arrived at McKeon Hall with her parents, and spoke fondly of the Argo Tea employees who knew her order by heart. But the end of her speech looked toward the future.
“Commencement does not mean farewell or goodbye—it means beginnings. So let’s begin to celebrate the victories of our undergrad career,” Thermadam said. “Let’s celebrate the precariousness of being a post-grad in today’s world. Let’s embrace new opportunities knocking at our door. Let’s celebrate our growth from this past year and the growth that’s yet to come.”
In her congratulatory remarks, Maura Mast, Ph.D., dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, thanked the new alumni for their resilience and ability to build community in one of the most challenging years in history.
“There is something special about being here, even if the sun is super hot—hearing the birds singing, admiring the beautiful campus. Feeling it [is]not the same as watching it on Zoom. And so today is special not just because you’re graduating, but because you’re back home,” said Mast. “While you have spent a lot of time here at Fordham learning, I want you to know that we have learned from you. And I am grateful for everything that you have taught me. Thank you for teaching us about resilience, about how to learn, about how to build community even when we aren’t on Eddies Parade together. Thank you for bringing your Fordham and New York toughness to meeting the challenges. Thank you for being Fordham, and for sticking with it.”
—Chris Gosier contributed reporting.