Like most colleges and universities, Germanna Community College was tasked this year with conducting a virtual graduation ceremony for its students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fall graduation ceremony, which was taped a few weeks prior to the December 14 graduation, featured a plethora of students, faculty and staff donning the traditional cap and gown and offering inspirational speeches and words of wisdom for the graduating class of 2020. It was an atypical year for college students, especially seniors, as they were forced to quickly switch to online instruction and attempt to meet graduation requirements amidst the chaos of the quarantine because of the pandemic.
LeAndre Blakely, a U.S. Army veteran who graduated in the fall with an associate degree in nursing, was selected as student speaker for the fall virtual commencement.
“What a year,” he told his classmates during the roughly hour-long commencement video. “Many of us who are graduating today could not have fathomed the challenge that arose during our journey toward achieving academic excellence. COVID-19 presented an unprecedented challenge that none of us could have foreseen. It was difficult for all of us. Yet we are here. We all kept our eyes on the goal.”
One of the students who persevered despite the COVID-related challenges was Chris Chira, speaker for the fall virtual nursing and health technologies pinning ceremony. Chira, the son of Romanian immigrants, served as student nursing council president during his final semester at Germanna. He decided to pursue a career in health care due in part to his older brother, who was born with spina bifida and had to be flown to America for treatment.
“The pandemic definitely made life as a student more difficult,” Chira says. “From learning in a classroom setting to having lectures delivered online it was a difficult transition for a lot of people in my class and for me. Fortunately, we had some professors that were cognizant of that and tried their best to transition us and to constantly motivate and encourage us to do our best despite the obstacles. To those professors, I have utmost respect and am thankful for them for going above and beyond for their students’ success.”
Chira’s speech for the virtual pinning ceremony focused on the resiliency of his classmates. Chira witnessed peers who struggled to meet graduation requirements because of cancelled clinicals, as well as those who worked in various areas of health care taking care of COVID patients and others who contracted the illness themselves.
“One of the rewards from this year has been seeing how my class has handled this pandemic,” Chira says. “Nursing school was already difficult with a lot of them having families and jobs to support their families. Throw a pandemic on top of a very stressful life trying to balance all the hats people have to wear and it can be very trying as a student. I only have one word to describe this class: resilient.”
Chira virtually addressed a class of roughly 70 nursing students during the 30-minute pinning ceremony. Being chosen as a speaker “is an honor I cannot express. To see this class overcome so many obstacles to get to this point is so inspiring and I could not be prouder of them.”
Among those who also spoke during the fall graduation and nursing pinning ceremonies were representatives from the college board, student services and the Germanna Educational Foundation, as well as Dr. Patricia S. Lisk, dean of Nursing & Health Technologies and Dr. Janet Gullickson, president of Germanna Community College.
Meanwhile, Jessie Harper, student government association president, was the spring virtual commencement speaker.
“Talking about Germanna is one of my favorite things to do because of how much this college means to me,” Harper says. “So, to be asked to be a speaker for the viral ceremony was an absolute honor. I was both excited and terrified.”
Harper turned to Gullickson for inspiration.
“She always speaks from her heart,” Harper says. “That’s how I tried to prepare mentally. The experience of getting to be a part of the virtual ceremony was phenomenal. It was like many other opportunities that I have been blessed to have had at Germanna: exciting, nerve racking, something I will never forget, and something I will be showing everyone I know because of how cool I think it is.”