Lee University Celebrates Record Number of Graduates Amidst Pandemic

Cleveland, TN–Despite the cancellation of what would have been the largest commencement in Lee University’s history this past weekend, the school celebrated its graduates in unique ways.

Dr. Paul Conn was originally set to spend his final day as president of Lee celebrating with the Class of 2020 on Saturday, August 1. Last week he spoke of the graduating seniors saying, “Though I won’t be able to hand them their diploma as I had hoped, we will not let this weekend pass without recognizing the hard work of each of our graduates.”

Along with the conferral of diplomas, Conn had been slated to deliver the commencement address at the weekend ceremony. It would have been the first time for him to make the keynote speech at the event, which he has hosted 93 times since becoming president in 1986.

The recognition of Lee University graduates included videos of congratulations from President Conn and the six deans of Lee’s schools and colleges. These debuted on Lee’s social media channels during the weekend. The online messages also included addresses from fellow graduates sharing their Lee experience, addresses which would have occurred during a Friday, July 31 Commissioning Service. Tolling bells from the campus’s two bell towers traditionally ring out a long celebratory peal at the conclusion of commencement. This also occurred online in the graduates’ absence to honor their accomplishment along with a video scroll of every graduate’s name and degree earned.

Class of 2020 graduates received boxes containing their diploma, regalia, Bible, program and other items (click photo to enlarge)

In addition to a few other surprises, last week each graduate was mailed a customized box with their regalia, diploma, a printed program of the event, and a Bible signed by Conn, all items each graduate receives in the traditional weekend ceremonies.

Conn announced the cancellation of the commencement celebration in an email to all graduates on July 16, followed by an emotional video the next day. “As painful as it is to reach this decision, I believe for us to bring such big crowds together on campus is just too risky. My first responsibility is to keep you and your families safe and well.”

During the July video, the Lee president included an open invitation for them to come back as “VIP marchers” in future commencements throughout 2020 and 2021. He also said the Class of 2020 will be invited back to campus for “the mother of all reunion parties,” once it can be done safely.

Because of the pandemic, the campus did not take on its accustomed flood of families last weekend, but more than 760 spring and summer graduates have been recognized, addressed and celebrated, capping what will still be a school record for the most degrees conferred in a single school year.

To view videos to mark the occasion, visit the university’s social media channels. To find out more about the fall semester and other COVID-19 updates, visit www.leeuniversity.edu/coronavirus/

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