On Saturday, Kennebec Valley Community College celebrated its 50th commencement. But that wasn’t the only historic aspect of the ceremony.

Mason Peterson, recipient of the Aaron Levine Outstanding Student Award, speaks during part of a pre-recorded Kennebec Valley Community College commencement ceremony broadcast Saturday morning. Screen capture by Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal

The ceremony, which was originally scheduled to be held at the Augusta Civic Center, was pre-recorded and streamed on the college’s website, as the coronavirus pandemic forced restrictions on large social gatherings. A total of 377 graduates were expected to participate in the ceremony.

KVCC President Rick Hopper said some portions of the ceremony were recorded last week at the school and contributed videos and photos from speakers and graduates were collected and patched together to create the hour-long ceremony.

At 10 a.m., a stream on the college’s website began, along with airings on four area public access channels. Hopper said before the ceremony it was important to include some television access because some students reported not having access to internet or computers at home.

The ceremony began with recorded video of Blue Hill Brass Quintet, which has played music at the last 21 commencement ceremonies. Hopper then delivered the opening address, recognizing the difficulties that some students may have had, both educational and personal, and lauded faculty and staff for their efforts to continue instruction and help in the community.

“We’re living a moment in history,” he said. “Your graduation at this moment in history offers us hopefulness.”

Mason Peterson, recipient of the Aaron Levine Outstanding Student Award, thanked essential workers, the families of students and the college’s faculty during his address.

“Without you, our success would hardly be possible,” he said. “You are the defining examples of what it means to be a community.”

Peterson, who graduated from the liberal studies program, also said the current times feel unstable and could have graduating students feeling vulnerable. He urged students to embrace that vulnerability, as it could breed innovation.

“Live in the mess,” she said. “Don’t ever be afraid to be the one who reaches out first because you never really know when someone else needs you to be that example.”

Congressman Jared Golden, the ceremony’s guest speaker, said he left college early to join the Marines. He said he returned to school as a nontraditional student, working nights and weekends. He said that scenario that is not unique, especially for KVCC students.

“A rigorous, practical education like you’ve received here at KVCC and rigorous life experience, like I know many of you have lived, is a powerful combination,” he said, “and you should be proud of it.”

Evelyn Hirschfelt, who graduated from the college’s nursing program in 1986 and now teaches at the college, was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award. During her comments, Hirschfelt referenced the pandemic and highlighted the nursing students for their work during the clinical portion of their education, where they provided care in hospitals.

“Without hesitation, the faculty and nursing students provided patient care during this pandemic,” she said. “Some of you may ask why. The answer is simple … this is what we do.”

At the end of the ceremony, every graduate’s name was read aloud and a photo of them was displayed, if available.

Before the ceremony, Hopper told the Morning Sentinel that he did not see the virtual commencement as a bad thing, but rather a way to recognize students for their postive achievements.

“I refuse to look at this a negative,” he said. “It celebrates a lot of positive aspects of people in the community.

Hopper said the college plans to invite graduates back for an in-person event at some point in the future.


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