Whitworth University President Beck Taylor planned to accept hugs and handshakes from 600 students as they walked across the stage during commencement this weekend, but so far he’s only had the chance to shake the hand of one graduate: his daughter.
Whitworth, Gonzaga, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and local community colleges have all canceled or postponed their in-person classes and commencement ceremonies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
College students have celebrated at home, online or have delayed ceremonies until the fall.
On Friday, Beck Taylor and his daughter Lauren Taylor took photos with the rest of the family in front of the Campanile Tower on Whitworth’s unusually quiet campus. They also paused to share the handshake father and daughter had been looking forward to for four years.
“It’s very special to be able to celebrate with my dad and have a little bit of normalcy,” Lauren Taylor said.
Lauren Taylor, who finished up the last of her classes on Friday, graduated with honors and a double major in biophysics and chemistry. She’s a member of the school’s lacrosse team, which had its season disrupted by COVID-19, and was awarded the university’s Distinguished Collegiate Achievement Award.
The 21-year-old plans to take a gap year and work as a medical scribe with plans to apply to medical school this summer.
For Beck Taylor, a delayed commencement is a blessing and a challenge.
He was looking forward to seeing Lauren walk across the stage with hundreds of other students, but a delayed commencement has also given him far more time to celebrate his daughter’s success.
“Our celebration with Lauren, if this was a normal weekend, would have been in little pieces here and there. We would have had to share this moment with other families and rightly so,” Beck Taylor said. “We feel like today we get to spend a little bit more time than we would have normally celebrating with Lauren.”
While the Taylor family celebrated graduation alone on Friday, they will celebrate online with Lauren’s fellow graduates on Saturday and Sunday.
This weekend’s online celebration will include video messages from university leaders and some department-centered Zoom video parties.
“We’re doing a lot to try to help students not just pass this milestone sitting at home in their bedrooms,” Beck Taylor said. “This is a big deal in their lives, and even though it looks different and feels different, we don’t want them to go through the weekend and not acknowledge the incredible accomplishment they’ve achieved.”
Beck and Lauren will also participate in commencement with the entire university in October.
Whenever they celebrate, Beck said he’s proud of what his daughter has accomplished.
“It’s just been so fun for Julie (Taylor) and me to see her succeed,” he said.
Julie Taylor, Lauren’s mother and the special assistant to the board of trustees at the university, said the Taylor family, like others who have had important moments in their lives disrupted, is trying to make the best of the situation.
“We’ve imagined this day for four years,” Julie Taylor said. “We’ve definitely had in our minds that it would be much different, so we’re trying to at least make it what we can.”
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