College of Graduate and Continuing Studies dean urges Class of 2020 to expect novel chances to thrive

Despite its adversity and frustrations, the coronavirus pandemic will allow new graduates to rethink possibilities, redraw strategies and succeed, College of Graduate and Continuing Studies Dean William Clements suggested. In his blog ahead of this month’s Residency Conference, he encouraged degree earners to seize this chance.

Because of the coronavirus curve-flattening campus closure, the conference, running June 22 through June 26, will, for the first time, be fully online. Four hundred eight students representing 13 online graduate programs will participate in capstone and culminating academic work, conferences and commencement exercises.

A degree conferral, open to family and friends, is scheduled for June 25. Career and personal development coach Pete Smith will deliver the keynote address.

“This is a unique time in history. … How we respond now, collectively, but importantly as individuals, is going to shape how our future looks.”William Clements, dean, College of Graduate and Continuing Studies

Besides the graduate program degree earners, 232 online bachelor’s degree completion students are expected to earn degrees. Students completing bachelor’s degrees are not required to participate in the Residency Conference, but are welcome.

In his blog, on the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies’ website, Clements, a 33-year Norwich employee and the graduate school’s dean since 2005, said the Residency Conference has evolved from a “stovepiped” program-by-program event to a coordinated celebration that lets students present program work, network with one another and join broader activities.

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Graduates in the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies’ Class of 2020 come from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and several nations. (Photo by Norwich University Photography.)

He said the conference has featured many memorable moments, including when retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Alfred M. Gray Jr., who’d delivered the keynote address, dropped to his knees to shake hands with a graduating student with disabilities who’d crossed the stage in a wheelchair. This year’s conference will be memorable for its format, Clements suggested.

“I think the virtual Residency gives us a chance to look at new tools and rethink how to make Residency more expansive and more inclusive,” he said. “We cannot always bring all the speakers we would like to have (to Northfield), but we can do that in a virtual way in the future.

“I see some of the changes ... hanging on in some form and becoming a permanent part of future Residency Conferences,” he added. “The way we think about getting together has forever changed.”

The business administration program will lead the conference in the number of new graduates (71), followed by information security and assurance (53), and international relations (46). Graduates come from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and several nations, Canada, Greece, Norway, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. Slightly more than half of the graduating class has served or is serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Reflecting the moment

Megan Liptak, the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies’ Residency Conference and events coordinator, said in an email that the conference will let attendees explore newly acquired skills, bond with one another and celebrate a momentous achievement. This year’s conference will, as ever, reflect the moment students, and the world, are in.

“The way each class experiences Residency week is always unique based on what is happening in the world, our guest speakers and the diversity of our student population,” Liptak wrote in an email. “We will be doing our best to ensure that we provide (students) with a valuable ... experience.”

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By attending Residency Conference, students get to use their newly acquired skills and forge social bonds by networking with one another. (Photo by Norwich University Photography.)

On a “Welcome to Your Residency” video posted on the Residency Conference webpage, past students described how valuable the experience was. Nicholas Christian, who earned a Master of Arts in Diplomacy in 2015, said it was powerful to see people who once had flickered across screens emerge in person to express opinions and emotions. Mozella Richardson, who earned a Master of Civil Engineering in 2015, said Residency fostered inclusion.

“The most valuable aspect of residency, was meeting my peers and professors … my professors who are now my peers,” Richardson said. “It made me feel more a part of this community than I did at a distance. … There’s a life here that tells you (that) you belong.”

Clements said the coronavirus pandemic’s aftermath will reshape the future — the economy will reformulate, perceptions will shift. He encouraged students to build on that change.

“This is a unique time in history — a unique event that we need to remember. … How we respond now, collectively, but importantly as individuals, is going to shape how our future looks,” he said.  “Look at the opportunity in this. What has this told us? Does it clarify our career path? Are there new business opportunities that will develop?

“Part of being able to bounce back is not to lament what is lost,” he said, “but to think about how we can affect the future given the circumstances.”

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