The mood in Sommer Center for Concordia’s 2021 Parade of Graduates could not help but reflect the real and ever-present apprehension at the rapidly approaching end of the beloved institution’s 140-year legacy. Yet pride, joy and hope took precedence for the day as the Concordia community celebrated their graduates and the hundreds of new beginnings they represent.
Health and safety restrictions necessitated a non-traditional format, with graduates and their families welcomed throughout the day for a personalized, individual commencement experience. Entering through a corridor transformed with balloons, celebratory messaging and video content, each graduate heard their name called and walked onto the stage to receive a diploma case and congratulations from President Nunes, then formally moved their tassel from right to left. Family and friends had an unobstructed view of the milestone moment, while Concordia staff and faculty cheered from the seats. The entire event was livestreamed.
The day began with the bestowal of two special honors. Kathy Laoutaris ’93, Director of Athletics and Campus Life, was clearly surprised and moved at being named the 2021 Distinguished Alumna for her decades of service and dedication to Concordia. The Honorary Doctorate was conferred upon Rev. Derek Lecakes, Bishop of the LCMS Atlantic District and Regent of Concordia College, as tribute to his life’s work in service to the Lutheran Church and Concordia.
Rev. Jeff Skopak ’88, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, FL, gave the opening prayer and closing benediction. Pastor Jeff is generously serving Concordia’s community as Campus Chaplain through the final days of the Spring 2021 Semester.
Almost half of Concordia’s nearly 400 graduating students chose to walk in the Parade, including all the graduates of Concordia’s Impact U program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Receiving their Certificate of Applied Learning, the Impact U students basked in their achievement, cheered on by their families, Peer Neighbors, and a campus that has embraced their joyful presence and cherished the abundant gifts these wonderful young people bestowed on the community.
A Graduate’s Address from Katherine (Katie) Suss ’21, who graduated summa cum laude with a BA in psychology and a minor in English, was published in the Commencement Program. Katie also sang the solo in the Alma Mater recorded for the livestream. Katie, who as the daughter of Concordia Conservatory’s Executive Director Kathleen Suss has known Concordia’s campus since her infancy, concluded her essay with the observation: “When we no longer occupy this space as we once did, the leaves on the trees on the quad will still fall and the cherry blossoms will still bloom. But aren’t we so lucky to have seen them at all?”
In his remarks from the stage, President John A. Nunes credited Concordia’s staff and faculty for their unwavering dedication to students while working through an extraordinary set of challenges. Before bringing down the gavel for the last time he said, “My friends, we are in the midst of an ending. But today is about beginnings. Hundreds of newly-minted Concordia College New York graduates are ready to give the world their passion, purpose and service. And that is cause for boundless gratitude and well-deserved celebration.”
A recording of the livestream, along with the Commencement Program, is available here.