Commencement to take place at Ice Castle for first time

By C. Aileen Blaine

There will be no “Pomp and Circumstance” echoing through Beeghly Center this May. Instead, Stambaugh Stadium will host Youngstown State University’s spring 2021 commencement ceremonies in person Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. 

As COVID-19 cases decrease and more individuals receive their vaccinations, campus community members are enthusiastic to turn over a new leaf in the pandemic. With renewed excitement, the Ice Castle prepares for YSU graduates.

At 6 p.m. Friday, all spring, summer and fall 2020 graduates are invited to return for a chance to participate in an in-person commencement ceremony. Ron Shaklee, professor and former chair of the geography department, will serve as the guest speaker.  

“It’s very humbling, and it’s indeed an honor to be asked to share that stage — not just the stage — but share that moment with people,” Shaklee said. “It’s really important to me that I’m able to show up and hopefully represent the university well, and the students well.”

Saturday’s ceremony will be divided into two parts in order to maintain COVID-19 safety. At 9 a.m., successful jazz musician and Dana School of Music alumnus Harold Danko will deliver a speech. The university will award him an honorary degree for his achievements in his 50-year career as a musician.

Local educator and YSU alumna Kristin Fox — who lost all four limbs last year due to a sepsis infection — will speak at 3 p.m. during the second part of the ceremony.

To ensure the safety of graduates and families, multiple pandemic precautions are in place. Caps and gowns were mailed to students and graduates were asked to provide the number of guests who will be in attendance though tickets are not required. Social distancing, masks and individual health assessments will take place at the ceremony itself. 

Jackie LeViseur, director of Alumni and Events, said the overwhelming responses to an in-person ceremony are positive.

“People are very excited to have the opportunity to safely get together and recognize the amazing accomplishments of our graduates and students,” she said.

Bringing back spring, summer and fall 2020 graduates is important to the university, and those involved in the event said they believe it to be a morale booster. 

“It means that — as a YSU community — we are a family and stick together through challenging times and also get together in happy times,” LeViseur said. “Commencement is the happiest moment in our students’ academic journey — and it means everything that we can all gather and celebrate their success.”

YSU Provost Brien Smith said he hopes graduates will take advantage of a ceremony celebrating two academic years. He also said he wants students to use the hardships of the last year to grow stronger as individuals. 

“A part of our confidence to be successful in life is looking back at what hardships we’ve been through — what we’ve accomplished — and taking strength from that,” Smith said. 

Smith offered advice for graduates as they move on to the next chapter in their lives.

“Students that are graduating this term should really borrow from that strength more than the students that came before,” Smith said. “They should reflect, ‘Yes, it was hard. And yes, I had some mental health issues, but I made it. I made it through and I’m walking across that stage, and I think that’s quite an accomplishment.’”

Commencement ceremonies will take place at 6 p.m. Friday, May 7; 9 a.m. Saturday, May 8; and 3 p.m. Saturday, May 8. The rain date is set for May 9. For more information, visit the spring 2021 commencement information page on YSU’s website.