UM welcomes Class of 2020 back home for graduation

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO — As special as graduation ceremonies are in their own right, one can only imagine what Class of 2020 graduates were feeling as they finally made their graduation official at the University of Montevallo on Saturday, May 8.

More than 165 class members returned to their alma mater to walk across the stage on the lawn of Flowerhill—a privilege they were denied in 2020 due to the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her keynote address, UM Alumni Association President Cynthia K. Todd contrasted the unique challenges of 2020—which brought on a pandemic, social justice movements, virtual classrooms and workplaces, and a plethora of emotions—with the promise of the present day while looking ahead.

“Class of 2020, you are home. Welcome home where you will always belong,” Todd said. “Today we’re kicking COVID to the curb and we’re celebrating you as the Class of 2020. Today we have feelings of excitement—hope, happiness, joy, unity, achievement.”

Todd, a member of the Class of 1988 and operations manager with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, told the class that they can seize the opportunity to start a new chapter in life and do what they want to do.

“Now is the time to look forward to new beginnings, the next chapter of your life, and for some of you perhaps an opportunity to write a brand-new book,” she said.

Afterwards, Todd was presented with the University’s President’s Award. Presenting the award was University President Dr. John W. Stewart III, who shared that the Class of 2020 holds a special place in UM’s storied history.

“We believe that this very well may be the first time in Montevallo’s unique history that alumni actually come back and graduate,” he said. “We’re grateful for you coming back, and I think it’s something that you’ll always remember.”

Justin Williams, 2020 senior class president, shared some heartfelt words and also shared his first impression of Montevallo back when he first arrived on campus. He recalled student-led organizations helping other students move in, in addition to counseling sessions.

“I feel like Montevallo helped us feel safe as well as made us feel like our voices were heard,” he said. “Montevallo helped us all to find our voices, and I hope to be able to do the same for others one day. Our time here has been impacted by lifelong friends, new colleagues, mentors and most importantly, a new family. I hope we all go out and help someone’s life be a little bit better, just as Montevallo has taught us.”

Including the morning and evening ceremonies, which celebrated the classes of 2020 and 2021, more than 500 graduates were recognized May 8. The keynote speaker during the earlier commencement exercise was State Rep. William “Bill” Poole of Tuscaloosa. Others who spoke included Stewart, outgoing Student Government Association President Thomas Dillard and outgoing Senior Class President Solomon Balaam-Reed.