Post Date and Author: 
- by 
New College of Florida Commencement at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, May 21, 2021. Photo by Daniel Wagner / WAGNER VISUALS

By Abby Weingarten

Kallie Delis, whose in-person graduation from New College last May was canceled due to the pandemic, finally got her commencement ceremony on Friday at Ed Smith Stadium.

She was among hundreds of students from the classes of both 2020 and 2021 to receive diplomas that morning—and her reflections on the moment embodied that of her peers.

“Nothing less than strength and luminescence got us through last year,” said Delis, the designated 2020 class speaker. “We are resilient beyond measure. Because, when it rains, we shine brighter. When it pours, they’ll see us like never before.”

It was indeed a shining moment for students like Delis, as she and several of her classmates joined 175 graduates from the class of 2021 to collect their certificates onstage from President Donal O’Shea.

The graduates’ final college years, plagued by COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, had been anything but ideal—a sentiment expressed in a dual speech by class of 2021 student speakers Ky Miller and Anna Lynn Winfrey.

“The graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 have faced more challenges than any other cohorts in the history of this institution,” Miller and Winfrey told the crowd. “Through our losses, we have had the privilege of being the keepers and the sharers of this community’s collective memories, and we have cultivated the adaptability and resilience to roll with the hard and fast punches that this year has hurled at us.”

Adapting to remote and hybrid learning, as well as adjusting to the multitude of safety requirements necessitated by the pandemic, were among the obstacles faced by both New College cohorts.

Having a stadium commencement was also a first for the College. The gathering has traditionally been held on the campus waterfront, under white tents overlooking Sarasota Bay. But the added space at the stadium this spring allowed masked friends and family members to safely social distance throughout the ballpark.

New College alumnus Robert Bilott served as the commencement speaker. Bilott is an attorney who took on a pro bono case in 1998 that led to a 20-year legal battle against DuPont, which revealed that the company had been using dangerous chemicals in its products that damaged the health of its employees and people worldwide. Bilott’s legal crusade against DuPont has been the subject of a New York Times magazine story; a documentary; the feature-length film, Dark Waters; and his own autobiography.

“We are proud to welcome you back to your alma mater. Your humility, your quiet compassion, your capacity for hard and grinding work, and your determined pursuit of truth—no matter how inconvenient or where it leads—inspires us all,” O’Shea told Bilott, presenting him with an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Additionally inspiring were the numerous award-winning New College graduates at the ceremony. The class of 2020 included three Fulbright award recipients, a Udall scholar and two Gilman scholars. In the class of 2021, there were two National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows, a Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) fellow, a Boren fellow, a Boren scholar, two Gilman scholars, and two Freeman-ASIA award recipients.

Many of the 163 baccalaureate recipients are currently headed to leading master’s and doctoral programs at schools including John Hopkins University, the University of Florida, Florida State University, American University Washington College of Law, the University of Oxford, New York University and Cornell University.

Other graduates are entering jobs in fields such as computer science, finance, education, research, environmental services and journalism. Ten of the 12 graduates of the data science graduate program have secured jobs, and one is continuing on to a Ph.D. program.

Despite the setbacks of the past year, the classes of 2020 and 2021 are leaving New College with gratitude and promise.

“Staying with the trouble of the world that we are graduating into has been one of the most difficult challenges that any of us has had to confront, but it’s also provided us with the dedication and the means to preserve our collective spirit and build more livable futures while we do our best to get through the present,” Miller and Winfrey said in their commencement speech. “Today, we will move forward with the stream of time, staying with the trouble, as we carry ourselves forward into the future.”

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.