Monday, September 7, 2020

(as reported in The Spokesman-Review by Emma Epperly)


While virtual commencement isn’t quite what Gonzaga University’s 2020 undergraduate class anticipated, the format allowed celebrities, including Jimmy Kimmel and Julianne Hough, to share their congratulations with the class.

In a virtual ceremony on Sunday, Gonzaga graduates were celebrated in a traditional commencement ceremony featuring Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault First Nation and a Gonzaga alumnus.

Despite “apocalyptic challenges,” Sharp encouraged the class to make the most of the moment.

“I would urge you to really consider this moment in time,” Sharp said. “It’s very clear that our creator called us. We are strong, we are prepared and we are destined for this moment.”

Sharp was followed by senior class speaker Arcelia Martin, a journalism student attending graduate school at Columbia University.

“As we graduate into new classrooms, new cities, new opportunities, seek out the stories that make your worldview more abundant – that challenge you to think differently, that lead you toward love,” Martin said. “If we continue to be curious and compassionate, we can continuously grow into the people we’d hoped we’d become when choosing Gonzaga for the first time, all those seasons ago.”

After Martin’s remarks concluded, a flurry of surprise guests offered their congratulations to the class.

Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Cathy Mc-Morris Rodgers popped on screen from their offices.

“We’re all so proud of you, and I know your parents are as well. We live in such an interesting time and challenging world,” Cantwell said. “But that’s why we have Zag Nation, because you’re going to go out and face these challenges and help us meet them head on.”

McMorris Rodgers shared her 2020 mantra in hopes of inspiring the class.

“My mantra for 2020 is, the best way to predict the future is to invent it,” she said. “Go invent it.”

Gonzaga alumnus Bruce Hough encouraged the class to “always put people before things. Relationships will last forever.”

His children Julianne and Derek, famous for their time on “Dancing with the Stars,” also shared some advice.

“Even though you’re graduating, continue to stay a student, stay curious and don’t lose that childlike wonderment, and creativity and curiosity,” Julianne Hough said.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great,” Derek Hough said. “Put yourself out there. Be courageous and don’t forget to have fun and stay healthy.”

Former Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court Mary E. Fairhurst shared three pieces of advice with the most recent graduates of her alma mater.

“Make a difference, believe in miracles, and be the leaders the world needs most,” she said.

Zykera Rice, a former Zags basketball star-turned professional player in Finland, spoke on the Black Lives Matter movement and how it relates to Gonzaga’s key tenets.

“As you embark on your journey into the real world from Gonzaga, which has fostered a commitment to the human person, social justice and diversity, I wish you the best of luck with your futures and implementing those beliefs throughout your lives,” Rice said. “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.”

The slew of celebrities ended on a lighthearted note, with Jimmy Kimmel reprising his 2019 joke that Gonzaga isn’t real.

“It doesn’t matter how you pronounce something that doesn’t exist,” Kimmel said, laughing. “Anyway, I don’t know what’s going on. If there are indeed students who think they are enrolled in this university, congratulations, I guess. To me, it’s a hoax.”

The ceremony concluded shortly after with the Missioning and Benediction of the class, delivered by Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh.

“Our prayer for you is to go forth and to live the fullness of life,” McCulloh said. To appreciate along the way, that the journey is as important as the destination. That trials endured do indeed make us stronger.” Emma Epperly can be reached at 509-459-5122 or