Warren Wilson College celebrated the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020 at its in-person commencement on Saturday, May 8, 2021.
More than 100 undergraduate students from the Class of 2021 received their degrees. A handful of students from the class of 2020 also returned to campus to walk across the stage.
The college held three separate ceremonies in order to maintain a low-risk environment for COVID-19. Students were allowed two guests each. The ceremonies were simple, with a welcome from Warren Wilson President Lynn Morton, remarks from Chair of the Board of Trustees Lach Zemp, the conferring of degrees and a reception.
As they walked across the stage, each student received a white pine tree sapling. A Warren Wilson tradition, the sapling represents the part of Warren Wilson that each graduate will take with them. Just as each graduate leaves the college to go, lay down roots, and grow, the graduate is encouraged to plant the tree away from campus to represent their mark as a Warren Wilson graduate in the greater world.
A virtual ceremony viewing party premiered the previous night for students, their families, and their friends who were unable to attend in-person.
The virtual viewing included recognition of Warren Wilson’s top seniors, faculty and staff honors and awards, an address by student speaker Bridget Palmer, and a keynote address by commencement speaker and climate journalist Andrew Revkin.
Palmer addressed the uncertain world that the graduates were entering.
“We’re a class defined by our adaptability. Despite the realities of pandemic living and distance-learning, we have engaged deeply in our academics, work and community engagement. We have fought to better our campus, our world, ourselves,” Palmer said in their address. “I invite and challenge you to dwell on the good, the times of joy, optimism, and exhilaration and connection. Our nostalgia will be tinted with grief for the senior year we could have had. While the moments of pain and hardship are certainly there and should not be forgotten, I hope that they are outweighed.”
Revkin also acknowledged the difficulties that the students have endured over the past year.
“You face a disrupted landscape of change like nothing I’ve seen in my 65 years on this planet, 35 of which I’ve spent probing some of the world’s worst environmental problems and solutions as a journalist,” Revkin said. “It can be paralytic and draining to confront a future that feels like you’re playing speed chess while walking through a fog-cloaked maze of trip wires and landmines and the rest. It can seem unbelievable at times. But I wake up each day hopeful and engaged, and I’m here to convince you that this isn’t wishful thinking.”
Revkin is one of America’s most honored journalists focused on environmental and human sustainability. He has written on global environmental change and risk for more than 30 years, reporting from the North Pole to the White House, the Amazon rainforest to the Vatican – mostly for The New York Times.
Michelle Padrón received the Alton F. Pfaff Award, the college’s highest honor given to a graduating senior. Zella Roberts received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is presented each year in recognition of a graduating senior’s personal character, integrity, and service to others and their communities.
Professor of Sociology Siti Kusujiarti and Fiber Arts Crew Supervisor Melanie Wilder received teaching excellence awards.