BVU Class of 2020 Celebrates Commencement and Closure on Lakeshore

Some 407 members of the historic BVU class reunited nearly one year after they were scheduled to participate in their graduation ceremony.

A 351-day wait for 407 Buena Vista University Class of 2020 graduates ended on Sunday as the last of three Commencement celebrations played out under spectacular weather on Peterson Field within J. Leslie Rollins Stadium on the BVU campus in Storm Lake.

Earlier in the weekend, BVU’s Class of 2021 and those earning master’s degrees from BVU in 2020 and 2021 celebrated Commencement in events staged on the football field as a mitigation strategy against COVID-19. 

The pandemic played the leading role in delaying the Class of 2020 Commencement for nearly one year. Many graduates who returned to campus on this sunny Mother’s Day holiday said they did so to reunite with classmates and peers one more time.

“It’s an historic moment. I have many good memories of BVU and my friends here. I love this place.”

Jorge Ceballos

“I finished my degree just before the pandemic last year, but I stayed in the area at that time as I wanted to be close to friends and to celebrate my BVU graduation,” said Kassidy Chandler, a 2020 graduate who majored in exercise science and now works in Fairfield. “But graduation last spring didn’t work out. I came back this weekend to see my friends and to be able to walk at graduation.”

Olivia Wieseler
Olivia Wieseler

Olivia Wieseler, a digital media major who graduated in 2020, drove nearly nine hours from her job in Gering, Neb., to savor the celebration at BVU. 

“I wanted to see friends and professors I haven’t seen for a year-and-a-half,” said Wieseler, who was interning in Washington, D.C., more than a year ago when BVU’s campus closed as much of the nation curtailed regular business and social activity as the pandemic swept through the country.

“It’s emotional seeing you all here,” said BVU President Brian Lenzmeier to a round of applause. “You did it! And you did it under extraordinary circumstances…We’re here finally, 351 days later to celebrate your success!”

Josh Cole, who earned degrees in sport business and exercise science, got married on May 23, 2020, the day Commencement was supposed to take place. Now working as a contractor specialist in New Mexico, Cole returned to campus to deliver the student address.

“Our time at BVU was cut short and we were unwillingly launched into online learning,” Cole said. “Lockdowns followed and the world rapidly changed around us, resulting in ruined plans, lost jobs and a whole lot of Netflix.”

Cole’s speech in 2020 focused on transforming communities, a frequent challenge for graduates and students at BVU. In the COVID-19 era, however, Cole and his wife barely know their new community. The pandemic has changed so much. 

Cole said his faith guides him as his level of anxiety heightens. He cited a verse from Philippians that said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.”

The phrase “with thanksgiving” remains key, Cole noted, as it’s counterintuitive, perhaps counter-cultural. 

“It shifts from the lack of control to God’s provision in my life,” Cole said as he reminded classmates to remain grateful for their abundant blessings. 

“Share your gratitude with others,” he concluded. “You might find that even right now you can have a transforming effect on those around you.”

Students walk through arch
Members of the Class of 2020 walk through Victory Arch, part of the traditional procession before the Commencement ceremony.

Keynote speaker Adrienne B. Haynes, a member of the BVU Class of 2010, noted that such a transformation remains on the horizon for these graduates.

“As educated emerging leaders during this time in history you have a unique opportunity to influence the future. The pandemic has reset the entire world and how we rebuild will be based in part on your leadership and your willingness to show us what a life lived to its maximum potential can look like.”

Jorge Ceballos
Jorge Ceballos

Jorge Ceballos, a 2020 graduate, continues to reach for his potential. The immigrant from Cuba returned from the University of Iowa School of Dentistry for Commencement. 

“It’s an historic moment,” concluded Jorge Ceballos, of Carroll, who was joined by his parents and brother. “I have many good memories of BVU and my friends here. I love this place.”

“There is no word to describe our pride,” his mother, Yuselys Chavez said.

Dernisha Hoover, of Bellwood, Ill., meantime, stenciled “Finally Free” on her mortarboard. With family and friends gathered around, Hoover, who traveled more than seven hours for the Commencement celebration on the shores of Storm Lake, said the event provided much-needed closure.

“I had to see my friends; I had to say, ‘Goodbye,’ to my professors. I had to get closure,” said Hoover, a communications study major who minored in theatre. She now works as an area coordinator for Woodlands Academy and remarked how much she misses her close-knit BVU community and the lake itself.

Still, it was time to move on, happily.

“I wanted to be set free, to start the next chapter of my life,” she said.