Brescia Class of '21 'found a way to succeed'

Robert Warren helps his wife, Mandi Warren, straighten her graduation gown Saturday outside of the Owensboro Sportscenter before she graduates with her Brescia University class with a degree in social work. The Warrens are from Kalispell, Montana.

The Class of 2021 at Brescia University — and all other schools — endured a pandemic for much of its junior and senior years.

But graduation this year, unlike last year, was in person inside the historic Owensboro Sportscenter with family members watching.

The 200 graduates each got four tickets for family members, meaning 800 people could socially distance and watch the ceremony in person.

It was also livestreamed to those who couldn’t get in.

Noah Cunningham, outgoing president of the university’s Student Government Association, told his classmates that despite the pandemic, “You still found a way to succeed. This year was tough on all of us, but we found a way to make it work.”

There were many positives in the past year, he said.

“Getting money from the government is always nice,” Cunningham joked.

Mikayla Toon, a Louisville native, said she’s heading back home with her new art degree to work for a printing company.

Online classes, she said, were “a lot harder” for her.

“It’s harder when you don’t see the teacher,” Toon said. “But we made it.”

Madison Simms, a Greenville native, is going to Western Kentucky University to work on her master’s degree in the fall.

She said she missed in-person classes, but enjoyed her college career.

Jordan White plans to return to Brescia in the fall to get her master’s degree in social work and then enter the U.S. Air Force as an officer.

She said she missed seeing other students during the pandemic, but made it work.

A few members of the Class of 2020, which did not have an in-person graduation, also participated in Saturday’s commencement exercises.

Candance Castlen Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and a 1993 Brescia graduate, told them, “I am mom to a 2020 college graduate and of a 2022 graduate. To the Class of 2020, I saw first-hand how tough it was for you to miss out on the second semester of your senior year, to not celebrate your college graduation ceremony, to enter the post graduation world in the middle of a global pandemic and a global economic shutdown. Many of you have had your lives paused for a year.”

She added, “To the 2021 class, I watched as you returned to campus last fall with lockdowns, public health procedures in place, dealing with limited time, hybrid classes, mask mandates and limited ways for connection — connection that is at the very heart of a college experience. You did it with grace. I never heard any young person I know complain. Not once. You were role models for rest of us.”

Brake said, “Today is the day of dichotomies. You are at the finish line — and you are entering the starting gate. It is bitter — sweet. There is a sense of relief to be finished, coupled with a little anxiety about what comes next. There is excitement for the future, and there is nostalgia that the years are coming to a close.”

She advised them to “find people who are honest with you, who will challenge you to be your best self, who make you laugh, who celebrate your successes.”

Brake said, “Remember what you say, post, tweet or write is an expression of who you are. It is a representation of you and your essence. And once it is out there, there is no getting it back.”

And she advised them to have fun, because life is short.

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