SPEARFISH –– Nearly 400 Black Hills State University (BHSU) students capped their secondary educational experience Saturday, earning their degree at three spring commencement ceremonies held at the Donald E. Young Sports and Fitness Center.

Roughly 325 students participated in three separate ceremonies at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. — one for each college.

BHSU President Dr. Laurie Nichols started off the celebration, offering salutations to the students.

“Congratulations graduates, your day has arrived,” she said.

Wrapping up a college career during a global pandemic was not an easy feat, Nichols said.

“And I don’t need to tell you that the last three semesters as Black Hills State have been unusual, and at times challenging,” she said, adding that no one could predict a pandemic would strike when the students were working for their degrees and futures. “But despite the many, many modifications we have had to make, you stayed the course. And for that, I both admire you, and I congratulate you. Both in the past year and the years before, your effort and perseverance have paid off.”

Dr. Tim Steckline, mass communication and speech communication professor, who was also named the Distinguished Faculty Member at BHSU this year, offered the charge to the graduates.

According to the commencement Steckline, who over the course of his career at BHSU taught 14 difference classes, was nominated by his peers, and recognized for the passion he brought to teaching and his generosity sharing his time and experience to his students and colleagues.  

He offered a few pieces of advice and encouragement to the graduates.

“Don’t forget – be careful what you wish for, pay attention, don’t be afraid, and for God’s sake, don’t get a facial tattoo,” Steckline joked.

Closing out the charge to the graduates, Steckline offered a parting quote from John Lennon, singer, songwriter, and musician from the Beatles.

“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group, and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition,” he said.

Dr. Joan Wink, of the South Dakota Board of Regents, served as the noon ceremony’s representative from the board. She offered more insights for the graduates.

“Whenever I give a graduation speech, I (typically) begin with ‘congratulation graduates,’” Wink said. “However, in this case, I’m going to begin by saying to you, thank you, thank you, thank you for playing by those annoying rules this year.”

Wink referred to the additional precautions and requirements imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I actually think the best kept secret in South Dakota this is that all 6 of our public universities were able to stay open while universities across the nation were going online for their classes,” she said. “And it’s because of you, and because of an excellent team (of leadership and staff).”

Wink exhibited her admiration and appreciation of the class’ ability to adapt during difficult times, such as transitioning from the traditional learning style to accommodating for pandemic precautions. And they took it in stride, she said.

“This is what we know about you already – when life tosses you a curve, you can handle it,” Wink said. “You can adapt when confronted with real change. There’s never been a class to experience a pandemic, quarantine, social and political upheaval, social isolation, wearing masks, and standing six feet away from all your family and friends. …unbelievable how you did it.”

Wink listed the last handful of generational nicknames and the personality traits, beliefs, and lifestyles encompassed within each, and wrapped up with giving the 2021 gradates their own, new moniker, wrapped in the value instilled upon them and grit exhibited by them during the pandemic.

“I don’t think the greater public has found a name for you yet,” she said. “But, to me, you will always be the ‘COVID Kids.’ And as we go forward, COVID Kids, you will be watched and studied, and articles will be written about you. You will learn a lot, but you’re going to teach us way more. There is no one like you.”

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