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In-person commencement returns at Fort Lewis College

Students deal with COVID-19 as they navigate their way to a degree
Seven separate commencement ceremonies will be held this year at Fort Lewis College. The first ceremony was held at noon Friday. In total, about 430 students will graduate. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

After commencement was forced to go virtual last year, in-person ceremonies returned Friday to Fort Lewis College, albeit with some concessions made to deal with the still-present coronavirus.

Seven separate commencement ceremonies will be completed by Saturday evening – multiple events are an adjustment made to minimize crowd sizes and maintain social distancing.

COVID-19 was a subject hard to ignore at the first ceremony held at noon Friday. Almost 430 students are graduating in the seven ceremonies.

Provost Cheryl Nixon told graduates they would have stories to tell their children and grandchildren about the disruption of their lives and their perseverance in overcoming the virus during the junior and senior years at FLC.

Every student had their own story about the pathogen en route to obtaining their degree.

Shasta Hampton gave birth to her son, Kiowa, about seven months before classes at Fort Lewis College moved online. She said online learning helped her raise Kiowa as an infant while she could continue her studies in public health. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Shasta Hampton, a public health major from Whiteriver, Arizona, gave birth to a son, Kiowa, seven months before COVID-19 forced classes to go online.

Online learning proved convenient for her as she was able to pursue her studies while raising her newborn at home.

“Public health embodies a culture of caring, and I think that’s what I found here at FLC,” she said. “The faculty was really mindful of everyone’s situation.”

Daniel Pierce, a sports administration major, and his father, Andy Pierce, celebrate after the first of seven commencement ceremonies Friday at Fort Lewis College. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Daniel Pierce, a sports administration major from Estes Park, said he would have preferred to have had in-person classes, but when the online transition proved necessary, the school handled it well.

“Online was difficult,” he said. “You miss things like facial cues and physical gestures, but it also kept my workplace safe. I was working at a church here in town.”

Cassie Dow, seen with her father, Martin Dow, says she was appreciative of just how many in-person days were offered at Fort Lewis College the past two years as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Cassie Dow, an exercise physiology major from Miami, Oklahoma, said she appreciated the effort to meet in-person as much as possible her final two years, and she enjoyed the outdoor learning opportunities FLC provided under five tents it added on campus.

“I think I understand now that anything can happen, and you have to work through things,” she said.

This year’s multiple ceremonies will allow for social distancing in the stands and will help limit crowd sizes. Ceremonies are being held at Ray Dennison Memorial Field with masks required.

Each graduate was allowed three guests. The commencement ceremonies are also available for viewing on FLC’s Facebook page.

Now, graduates are looking to the next chapters in their lives.

Hampton has been accepted into the master’s of public health program at Northern Arizona University.

Pierce has an internship lined up at a golf course in Denver.

Dow is searching for a physical therapy internship in Oklahoma, and she plans to attend graduate school in physical therapy.

parmijo@durangoherald.com