Outdoor-Only Ceremonies a First for Westminster: Classes of 2020 and 2024 Make History

Commencement 2020 and the Columns Ceremony

A global pandemic, a three-month postponement, and a four-hour rain delay could not prevent Commencement and the Columns Ceremony at Westminster College from taking place.

The physically distanced ceremonies ran smoothly on Aug. 8, 2020, after finally beginning at 2 p.m. ― thunderstorms rolled through campus before the scheduled 10 a.m. events.

The ceremonies were postponed from their original May 9 date because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Class President Emily Lucitt compared the experience of arriving at graduation to a “back from the underdogs kind of win” in a tough sports competition.

With a pair of Converse sneakers peeking out beneath her navy graduation robe, Senior Class President Emily Lucitt addressed the crowd of graduates seated in neat rows of white foldable chairs spaced exactly six feet apart just north of the Columns. She enthusiastically compared the in-person event to a monumental athletic victory.

Lucitt said, “Our win, this win, wasn’t just a little one. This was like a Game 7, Rivalry Team, come back from the underdogs kind of win.”

Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr., ’79, remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic made the graduates’ experience unique.

Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr., recalled his experience as a 1979 graduate of the College, noting that although the graduates’ situation was highly different than his because of the pandemic, the pride graduates and parents were feeling regarding the milestone accomplishment was the same.

He encouraged the Class of 2020 to engage with faculty, staff, and the Alumni Association in the future, adding, “Westminster is a family, it cares for you, and it will continue to care for you throughout your adult lives.”

Board Chair James C. Morton, Jr., encouraged the Class of 2020 to be flexible and open to career opportunities that might not always be “easy or comfortable.”

Next, Lofe introduced Chair of the Board James C. Morton, Jr., followed by featured speaker Sara Hart Weir, ’04 ΚΚΓ, who recently ran for U.S. Congress in the third congressional district of Kansas.

Weir mentioned that she postponed writing her remarks until after the Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, primary, adding that she lost in a close race by approximately 7,000 votes.

Alumna Sara Hart Weir, Class of 2004, recently ran for U.S. Congress in the third congressional district of Kansas. Weir told graduates to pursue their interests despite others’ opinions.

The former president and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society quoted Winston Churchill concerning defeat. She said, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Weir then implored the graduates to pursue their interests despite obstacles and others’ opinions. She gave the Class of 2020 three pieces of advice: “Do it your own way,” “get off the sidelines and into the arena,” and “leave it all on the field.”

Next, she mentioned the year-long celebration of women at Westminster, remarking that admitting women to the College in 1979 was best decision the College ever made.

Weir ended her speech by encouraging the Class of 2020 to embrace Westminster’s mission.

“As we say here at Westminster College, each of us has come into the world with a purpose, to not simply be, but to become the embodiment of everything extraordinary that lives inside of us,” she said. “Put your arms around your passion, and go live your purpose.”

Melissa Rolseth, above, and Ryan Clavin were announced as Seniors of the Year.


Please visit Westminster’s YouTube page to view the ceremonies in their entirety.


New Student Convocation

Westminster College’s 170th entering class arrived at New Student Convocation during a unique period in worldwide and campus history. For the first time since the time-honored tradition began in September 1929, the 177-member class experienced a ceremony conducted entirely outdoors because of concerns arising from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of proceeding through the Columns to Champ Auditorium, new students sat on the Hill in foldable chairs for the second half of the event.

After an introduction by Marshal of the College David Jones, Custodian of the Columns Sarah Ayers delivered the Columns Charge.

Sarah Ayers, ’21, Custodian of the Columns, delivered the Columns Charge.

Katherine Wood of Kansas City, MO, and Ari Lieberman of Chesterfield, MO, gave the Response for the Class of 2024.

Recalling her first visit to campus, Wood expressed how excited the class should feel about beginning their college career at Westminster.

Katherine Wood and Ari Lieberman, above, delivered the Response for the Class of 2024.

“I remember my tour guide knew almost every student and faculty member that we encountered while on the tour,” she said in describing her first visit to Westminster.

Lieberman echoed Wood’s sentiment, explaining he visited 10 other colleges and universities before Westminster. He told the class, “The sense community and positive atmosphere here was unlike any other school I had seen.”

After the class passed through the Columns and were seated, Rev. Kiva Nice-Webb gave the Invocation.

Next, Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr., told the class he experienced the same emotions they were feeling when he was a new student in 1975. A member of the Class of 1979, Lofe emphasized that the College wants the absolute best for the Class of 2024.

“As you take your first steps, literally and figuratively, of your college career, please be assured that the College’s administration, faculty, and Board of Trustees will work very hard to provide you with a robust academic program as well as a positive and safe student life experience, especially in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lofe said.

Chair of the Board James C. Morton, Jr., then briefly spoke and explained the role of the Board of Trustees to the class. Dr. Paul Orscheln, Vice President of Enrollment Services, also welcomed the incoming group of students.

Olivia Wilson, Class of 2019, encouraged the Class of 2024 to see the challenges of the past months and the four years ahead in a positive light. Wilson is a registered lobbyist with Gamble & Schlemeier in Jefferson City, MO. She also is a Young Trustee with the Westminster College Board of Trustees.

Featured speaker Olivia Wilson, ’19 ΚΑΘ, then took the stage and told the class that despite the chaos they are witnessing throughout the world, “It will be okay. In fact, it will be better than okay. It’s going to be amazing,” she said enthusiastically. “I think that the Westminster College community is the perfect place to turn these worries and concerns into positive things: friendship, safety, academic and personal growth, and, ultimately, success.”

Please visit Westminster’s YouTube page to view the event it its entirety.



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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.