At the beginning of April, the administration of RTS decided to cancel all spring 2020 commencement ceremonies due to concerns about gathering during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the cancellation announcement, Chancellor and CEO Dr. Ligon Duncan shared a letter with the RTS community, addressing the class of 2020. “While it is a disappointment to us not to be able to honor our 2020 graduates in the manner in which we are accustomed, we trust the Lord in his good and wise providence, and we want to assure our soon-to-be-alumni of our esteem for you.”
Over the past few weeks, graduates have finished their coursework, taken their finals, and turned in their final assignments. To mark the occasion, campuses have gotten creative. Many campuses compiled gifts for their graduates. The Atlanta and Orlando campuses hosted “drive-throughs” to present diplomas, while the Washington and Jackson campuses hosted “mini-graduation” ceremonies. At RTS Jackson, students waited in the parking lot until it was their turn to receive a diploma in Grace Chapel.
Regardless of the method, the goal was to host “safe and voluntary” events that would allow graduates to celebrate. Orlando graduate Julianna Jackson found the diploma ceremony especially important after missing the fanfare of finishing classes on campus.
“I am so thankful for the drive-through ceremony,” Jackson shared. “It truly felt like a celebration of our time at RTS and the hard work we put in to completing our degrees. Even though we missed ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ it felt good to receive a diploma, have our pictures taken, and hear friends cheering for us as we drove away.”
Jackson’s husband, Alan, also finished his degree this spring. “It was good to see my professors one last time and to cheer on the other graduates,” he added.
The Charlotte, Atlanta, and Dallas campuses also made sure to record encouraging messages for their graduates. Professor William Wood recorded a charge for RTS Atlanta’s commencement, and RTS Charlotte emailed a video of Dr. Derek Thomas’ remarks to their graduating class. Campus presidents, executive directors, and academic deans also recorded addresses or wrote letters for the graduates of their respective campuses.
Dr. Duncan also shared a prayer for all RTS graduates. Dressed in full academic regalia, he recorded the prayer from his office in Jackson, Mississippi. Based on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17:14-26, Dr. Duncan prayed that the RTS class of 2020 would be full of truth and unity as they begin the next season of ministry.