Class of 2020 has in-person graduation during Homecoming festivities


The Class of 2020 in their first year. (Photo by Will Heller ’16)

For many 2020 Luther alumni, October’s Homecoming events will be the first time that they return to campus since leaving campus in March of 2020. On October 29-31, 2020 graduates will be back on campus for a class reunion and an in-person graduation ceremony. This Homecoming will be an especially poignant experience for graduates who finished their final months and had their graduation ceremonies online, at home due to the pandemic. 


Erik Johnson (’20), who is currently employed at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, said that the graduation ceremony will be a great experience to finally have in-person.

 “One of the things about the 2020 graduation was that it was all virtual, there was no walking across the stage to get your diploma,” Johnson said. “I think that this fall will give us a chance to be recognized as a group, whereas in the spring of 2020 it felt more like I was just being recognized individually, and all these other people were also getting recognized individually in their homes as well.” 

After leaving campus in March of 2020, many traditions for Luther seniors had to be abandoned. Final papers were submitted digitally, senior week social activities were impossible, and commencement was held over Zoom. Nevertheless, Peder Smith (’20), who works as an admissions counselor for Luther, wants to focus on the positives. 

“I was really happy with my Luther experience,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m back working here, it’s a place I hold very dear to my heart, and I want to stay involved in the community of Luther and the community of Decorah. Ultimately, I think it’s important to note too that, while [the pandemic] was a bummer for the class of 2020, we really had 95% of a normal college experience.” 

For many 2020 and 2021 graduates, these opportunities can help make up for the things they missed out on during the pandemic. Evelyn Galstad (’20) is currently a language assistant in Nordic studies at Luther. She recognized the difficulties of ending her career as a student with little closure.

“It wasn’t a choice to transition out, I couldn’t take it at my own pace, and instead it was forced upon [us].” Galstad said. “I was in denial for a long time about it. I got what I needed to get, but it’ll be hard to not have those final senior year memories.” 

All in-person attendants of the commencement ceremony will be required to take a COVID-19 test before the occasion, unless they are fully vaccinated. Face masks and social distancing will be implemented to ensure that the experience is as safe and comfortable as possible for all attendants. Graduates will also be allowed to bring two guests to campus, who can watch a livestream of proceedings from classrooms around campus. Graduates like Galstad are excited just to be able to safely meet and interact with their peers again.

“For me, the best part of college was socializing with my peers and collaborating with them,” Galstad said. “The community is what makes Luther, Luther. I think the gradual return to normal is really increasing that feeling, because it’s easier to not be isolated, it’s easier to feel safe. It is exciting to see this community unlock that magic, not just first-years, but also for the magic to be unlocked or re-unlocked for all sorts of people.”