MISSOULA — The University of Montana hosted commencement this Saturday for two graduating classes - 2021 and 2020.
The relief, celebration, and gratitude could be felt by all the families and students here after a challenging academic year.
In his address to the graduates, UM President Seth Bodnar said, "You have all shown very clearly that in each and every one of you beats the heart of a Grizzly.”
These graduates are now lifetime Grizzly alumni.
Bodnar's message of congratulations and pride for the outgoing students has a greater tone, perhaps, than in years past.
These students just finished their college education in the midst of a pandemic. And they get to graduate, in person.
Jack Rinck, a 2020 graduate, came back to walk in person and said being able to see people again was great.
"Just being able to see so many faces that I only saw literally only on a computer screen,” he said.
Rinck's undergraduate degree in political science is a foundation for his next step - continuing at UM for a master’s degree.
“Everyone just worked so hard to make this happen and make my learning experience super successful throughout this pandemic, so I think just recognizing that and saying thank you,” Rinck said.
With temperate weather and smiling faces (under masks), everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Dave Kuntz, UM director of communications, said the beautiful day was exactly what the students deserved.
“Commencements are about celebrations, and this class is really one that's worth celebrating," Kuntz said.
"I think as the years pass we’ll look back at the class of 2021 and recognize them as one of the most unique, impactful classes that have ever gone through this university,” he continued.
Despite the pandemic, Kuntz said the university was able to keep to the public health guidelines prescribed by the health department. He said staff worked closely with public health officials to make commencement possible.
“This is the largest event that Missoula County has held in over a year, and I think it's a worthwhile one to be able to celebrate these graduates,” Kuntz said.
Sitting socially distanced in the open air of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, these students won’t be able to shake the hands of faculty as they receive their diplomas.
But the return of tradition by honoring graduates with a ceremony marks a meaningful end to a challenging year.
Bodnar continued his admiration for the students as he spoke to them on stage.
“Completing your degree requires hard work and determination at any time. But completing your degree during a global pandemic is tremendous accomplishment,” Bodnar said.