Bellarmine celebrates graduates with historic in-person ceremonies

May 10, 2021

Commencement 2021 at Freedom Hall


Bellarmine University celebrated the many achievements of its 2020 and 2021 classes in five commencement ceremonies May 7 and 8 in iconic Freedom Hall.

It was the university’s 68th commencement celebration and the first following the pandemic, which disallowed public gatherings last year. Considering the unique circumstances of two classes celebrating at once, it was the largest commencement weekend in the university's history.

Bellarmine awarded 898 degrees for the 2021 class, with 265 at the graduate or doctoral level. For the 2020 class, there were 917 degrees conferred, with 291 at the graduate or doctoral level.

“Earning a college diploma is a challenging endeavor,” said Dr. Susan M. Donovan, Bellarmine president, in her address. “It is a journey that tests not only your grasp of academic subject matter, but also your sense of self. The college experience helps you determine who you are, and to a large extent, how you will conduct yourself in the world. You have been tested in a crucible that few other graduating classes have faced and you have triumphed.”

While COVID-19 precautions were kept, the opportunity to gather in person, with classmates, friends and family, heightened the sense of celebration.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Bellarmine for making this possible,” said Emma Dayvault, who graduated with a Political Science degree with plans to go to law school. “I feel so lucky to be able to have this ceremony, despite COVID-19.”


Elizabeth Lonnemann celebrates as she walks across the stage


The ceremonies fell the same weekend as Mother’s Day, making the events even more poignant for many families.

On Saturday night, Melissa Hook wrapped her son Kyle Hook in a giant hug, as he exited the building, telling him she was so proud. Kyle graduated with a Psychology degree and plans to attend graduate school to become a psychologist. 

Walking across the stage was “really important, especially because I’m the first in my family and I think it means a lot to them and to me,” Kyle said.

On Friday, Megan Gibson, who earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, said graduating was a “rewarding and fulfilling” experience. “Starting Day One it was hard to see the end of the road,” she said, “but it’s been an amazing time here at Bellarmine.”

Walking with her fellow doctoral candidates was special, she added. “I’ve been with these people for the last three years and worked through a lot with them, so to be able to graduate with them on this day means a lot.”

John Lansing, a Bellarmine graduate who is the President and CEO of National Public Radio, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary doctoral degree.

Lansing enrolled at Bellarmine in 1981 but left campus for a news director position in Michigan in 1985 before earning his degree. He returned to finish his degree in 2009, before joining the university's Gallery of Distinguished Graduates the following year.

He called the invitation to speak at his alma mater’s commencement one of the greatest honors of his lifetime and credited his family for making his bachelor's degree possible. "My own journey from enrolling in 1981 and not graduating until 2009 would have been virtually impossible without the support of my family, including my wife, Jean, and our four great kids," he said.

Speaking to family members in the audience, he added, "It gives me the perspective I need to understand that this day is also your day."

Click here to see photos and videos from the ceremonies. 


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