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Elmhurst University Hosts Historic Commencement Ceremonies

May 22, 2021 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Graduate students celebrate after Commencement by the Gates of Knowledge

Over two warm and sunny days, Elmhurst University graduates of the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 took part in a series of on-campus, in-person Commencement ceremonies, walking across the stage and into history.

Held under an enormous white tent spanning the length of the University Mall, the 150th Commencement exercises were unprecedented for a number of reasons.

The ceremonies honored the Class of 2020, the final class to graduate from Elmhurst when it still was called Elmhurst College; as well as the Class of 2021, the first to graduate from Elmhurst University. They also marked the official beginning of the University’s sesquicentennial celebrations, a yearlong commemoration of Elmhurst’s 150 years as an educational institution.

And the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented in-person ceremonies last year, was weakened enough by vaccines and strict safety measures to finally allow a carefully planned Commencement that could keep participants safe. During each of four separate ceremonies, the graduates sat socially distanced, in face masks, while a limited number of their guests filled the rows behind them. As each grad walked across the stage, they signaled to a fully vaccinated President VanAken how they wished to receive their diploma—masks on or off, with or without a congratulatory elbow bump.

“Welcome to your richly deserved Commencement Day!” President Troy D. VanAken said. “Thanks in large part to your hard work, dedication and resilience, we are able to come together today. We have been through so much together, especially in the past year. Always remember—you are a historic group in a historic time.”

Graduate students process during the Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 21

Graduate students process during the evening Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 21.

More than 900 students took part in the weekend ceremonies, out of nearly 2,000 Elmhurst students who earned degrees in the past two academic years.

At the ceremony for graduate students, held on Friday, May 21, master’s degrees were awarded in the fields of business, education, health care and technology. An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters was conferred on Joel Herter ’53, a prominent DuPage business and civic leader, and a longtime Elmhurst trustee and supporter.

“This university has meant so much to me,” Herter said as he addressed the graduates. “It has shaped my entire life—my career, my family, my outlook.”

He encouraged them to thank the influential people in their lives, and to reflect on how their experience at Elmhurst will influence them as they take their next steps forward.

“Remember that Elmhurst has prepared you well and will always be here for you, as it has been for me and the tens of thousands of alumni who came before you,” he said.

At the three Commencement ceremonies for undergraduate students, all held on Saturday, May 22, beloved music professor Doug Beach, director of the Elmhurst University Jazz Band and jazz studies, shared advice and inspiration from people he had come to know and admire throughout his acclaimed career.

“Now that your Elmhurst University undergraduate career has come to a close, the classes are over and your time with your professors has ended. But remember that you are always a student. A lifelong student. The learning never stops,” he said. “You must always keep your ears, your eyes and your heart open.”

He also asked the graduates to consider how they might one day share their experience with future Elmhurst students.

“As your life unfolds, your successes will take you higher up the ladder in your chosen field. Please remember that when you get to the top, make sure to send the elevator back down for someone else,” he said. “There will always be someone that can use the lift, and they will be grateful for your guidance and mentoring.”

As President VanAken congratulated the graduates, he urged them to maintain their connections to the University, and to come back for one of the sesquicentennial celebration events.

“We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next,” he said. “A hearty congratulations to you, the Elmhurst University Class of 2021 and Class of 2020!”

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