Every student in our region has achieved something truly special this year. They have adapted to a rapidly changing pandemic, distance learning, being unable to put their hands on equipment in labs and shops and separation from peers.

These students found a way to prioritize education while the world around them seemed to be in chaos. They have weathered a semester that most of us could not have imagined just a few months ago. The students at Central Lakes College inspire us every day, but this class, the Class of 2020, they are some of the strongest people I know.

It’s been amazing to see each student power through and finish off this part of their educational journey. They’ve overcome limited internet access, loss of income, food insecurities, distance learning with their own children, adjusting to a new form of learning themselves, and so much more. That’s commendable and shows a level of commitment and grit that simply has to be celebrated. So, when it came to our commencement ceremonies, we knew we had to do something special – something deserving of this strong, enduring class. Of course, this led us to host our first-ever virtual commencement.

Within the span of a few weeks, our team mailed commencement care packages to our graduates (complete with a diploma cover, cap, tassel and honor cords), gathered submitted student photos and crafted a masterpiece commencement ceremony that gave graduates their time in the spotlight. Many students also shared inspiring quotes about what CLC meant to them. One of my favorites was, “There will always be a special place in my heart for my CLC family.”

As we’ve navigated these unprecedented times, we’ve found bright spots, little bonuses that we didn’t count on. This year’s commencement ceremonies had more than 10,700 views. There is no question that more friends and family members joined the celebration than ever have before. They logged in from near and far, made encouraging comments on YouTube and sent up floaty hearts on Facebook. Did I miss the crowd, the smiles on our students’ faces, the ability to shake their hands? Absolutely. Do I believe that students felt our heartfelt care in this virtual format? Absolutely. And, for the first time, those ceremonies are available for our students, their families, and you to view anytime.

I encourage you to check each ceremony out on our YouTube channel or our Facebook page. Make sure to watch the cheering at the end. I hope it gives you the feeling it gave me.

Thank you to each of our CLC family members who worked so hard to make this a special event. And, thank you to this special community for supporting our graduates, our students, the future of our communities. CLC is your community’s college, and we are all #CLCstrong.