By Kris McBride — THATCHER — Viewing figures peaked at more than 7,000 as Eastern Arizona College honored the Class of 2020 at a virtual commencement ceremony on May 8 – the first in the College’s 131-year history.
Due to concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was hosted on EAC’s website, https://eac.edu/grads2020/, Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/gilamonsters/videos/571784940407214/, and YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M33CD877glk&t=343s.
Many of the viewers included families and groups who celebrated the accomplishments of 522 candidates for graduation, expressing hundreds of congratulatory messages for students unable to attend in-person due to the global pandemic.
Candidates for graduation were virtually called to order by Lacy Hemp, the Associated Students of Eastern Arizona College student body president, from Sahuarita.
“While this unprecedented global challenge prevents us from celebrating this important milestone in-person, it will never stop members of the Class of 2020 from achieving their dreams,” Hemp said. “Tonight, let’s celebrate our accomplishments, and all we prepare to achieve in every way available to us.”
EAC President Todd Haynie conducted the academic ceremony and welcomed candidates, well-wishers, and honored guests on behalf of the Graham County Community College District Governing Board.
“Tonight, we make history,” Haynie said. “This is the first time in 131 years that EAC has held a commencement ceremony virtually, with no audience and no graduates in attendance.”
During his opening remarks, Haynie said he hoped that graduates were in “the company of parents, other family members, and close friends,” and that they could “sense their joy as they celebrated this accomplishment.” He encouraged the graduates to express their love and appreciation for the support and guidance their loved ones had given them.
The virtual event included comments from Dr. Cindy Olvey, president of the EAC Alumni Association, who welcomed EAC’s newest alumni. A special musical number was performed from Show Low by Esther Muro, one of EAC’s candidates for graduation, and Brian Flores, a 2019 graduate.
Connor Christensen, the son of Sean and Lori Christensen, and a graduate of Thatcher High School, represented the Class of 2020.Throughout his speech, Christensen reminded his fellow students that they have the power to shape their lives in whatever ways they desired.
“The most beautiful truth about life,” Christensen said, “is that no matter what, we can choose to appreciate both the bitter and the sweet, for without one, there is not the other. As each of us moves forward throughout life, we can be certain that we will experience both highs and lows, challenges and rewards, times of peace and times of turmoil, and through it all at the end of the day, all we have yet to do, all we can do, is to take what we’ve been given, eat it up, and take another bite out of life.”
Kate McCluskey, celebrated coach and member of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, represented the faculty. A member of EAC’s faculty for the past 30 years, McCluskey received an associate degree from Eastern Arizona College, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western New Mexico University.
McCluskey’s speech included a story from Pastor Robert Fulghum about a grade school girl who insisted on being a mermaid in a game only intended for giants, wizards and dwarfs.
“Nothing in that world seemed normal to her,” McCluskey said, “but, she was not about to bow out and stand against the wall. She intended to participate and to take her place wherever mermaids fit into the scheme of things.”
Throughout her speech, McCluskey underscored three important choices graduates could make to navigate their ways through a world that is in disarray. She encouraged them to believe in something larger than themselves, and to “find out where they stand in life, just like that little girl” who insisted she was a mermaid. McCluskey encouraged graduates to “find the joy, hunt the good” and figure out what really makes them happy. McCluskey ended by encouraging the graduates to “treat every person and every situation with respect” and to realize “there will always be mermaids in games that typically only recognize giants, wizards and dwarfs.”
EAC Vice President Jeanne Bryce presented the candidates for graduation and encouraged them to not focus on what the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them doing, but to “reflect on what you have accomplished, the relationships you have made, and the knowledge you have gained.” District Governing Board Chair, Jeff Larson, accepted the candidates for graduation and conferred upon them the associate’s degree.
There were 543 degrees awarded to EAC’s Class of 2020. Members came to EAC from 11 Arizona counties, 15 states, and five countries, including Mexico, Ireland, Belize, Japan, and Russia. A total of 122, or 23 percent, were first-generation students, meaning they were the first in their families to graduate from college. A total of 191 members graduated with honors, with 22 receiving highest honors, 82 receiving high honors, and 87 receiving honors. Graduates will go on to a broad range of careers and to four-year universities to study business, engineering, education, finance, medicine, and much more.