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‘We’re really excited and a little sad’: Gonzaga University graduates receive diplomas Sunday after pandemic college experience

UPDATED: Sun., May 8, 2022

A group of Gonzaga University graduates gather for a quick photo Sunday before scattering to their positions in the procession.  (Christopher Anderson/ For The Spokesman-Review)
A group of Gonzaga University graduates gather for a quick photo Sunday before scattering to their positions in the procession. (Christopher Anderson/ For The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The bumpy pandemic ride of the last few years gave the more than 1,200 who received undergraduate degrees from Gonzaga University on Sunday the strength of perseverance, President Thayne McCulloh told them in a ceremony that filled the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

“From this time and this experience, you all have something to share,” he said. “As individuals and as a class, you are strong and more resilient.”

Best friends Noey Ferris and Grace Portch, both of whom earned degrees in nursing, confessed to having mixed feelings about the ceremony.

“We’re really excited and a little sad,” Portch said.

“I really don’t want my education to be over,” Ferris said.

The duo and their classmates had an experience like no other, navigating online classes and then a mix of online classes and in-person classes as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.

“We’ve grown so close as a class,” Portch said. “It’s a little sad to see everyone go their separate ways.”

Sarah Bodisco, who earned her degree in economics and political science, was relieved to have an in-person graduation ceremony.

“I think everyone is really excited to be here,” she said. “It makes me so much more grateful.”

Bodisco, who plans to attend law school, wore a crown of laurel leaves. It’s an Italian tradition that she learned about when studying in the Gonzaga in Florence program last semester.

“I know the tradition goes all the way back to the Romans,” she said.

The entire weekend was a celebration of graduates, with ceremonies for the Gonzaga School of Law and graduate students taking place on Saturday. Graduates from the class of 2020, who had only a virtual ceremony, were also part of the weekend’s events.

As the 129th commencement ceremony began Sunday morning, the 1,235 graduates filed to their seats while the Angus Scott Pipe Band played. Dr. Ken Anderson, interim provost, noted that some of the families in attendance had traveled long distances to see their family members graduate. “This is indeed a day to celebrate, not only for our graduates, but for our families,” he said.

McCulloh urged the students to make the world a greater, kinder and more loving place.

“We are so proud of you,” he said. “We cannot wait to see the places you’ll go.”

Spokane resident Carla Peperzak was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony for her work with the Dutch resistance during World War II. Peperzak worked to save her Jewish family and other Jews during World War II, and she has spoken often in the community about her experience. Spokane Public Schools has named a new middle school after her, and she was named Washingtonian of the Year in 2020.

The honorary degree was given in recognition of her lifelong impact and her message of love, hope and peace.

“May her courage and her heroism be an example to us all,” Anderson said.

Angela Jones, a graduate of the Gonzaga School of Law, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and gave the commencement address. She spoke about how her time at Gonzaga transformed her and reminded the graduates that it’s up to them to decide what’s next. She urged them to set goals and do what they felt called to do in their life.

“Love and trust God on that journey,” she said. “Love and trust yourself on that journey.”

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