By Tim Rath
At midnight on March 12, 2020, Alma College announced that all in-person classes would move online in response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic.
Athletics and extracurricular events were canceled, students began to pack their belongings for home, and faculty and staff mobilized to support students through this unprecedented experience.
Something else happened, too. Within 24 hours, Alma students had organized moments throughout campus for graduating seniors to shine, and to find some closure on their Alma experience.
“It was a great, meaningful day, one that I was proud to be part of,” said Andrew Pomerville, the chaplain and director of spiritual life at Alma College. “I give students, faculty and staff a lot of credit. For a lot of us, it was a time of sadness and anger, but we came together in a truly memorable way.”
For his part, Pomerville said, students were given an opportunity to gather at Dunning Memorial Chapel to speak their minds and work toward healing. As some came forward to give snapshots about their time at Alma College, Pomerville, a graduate with the Class of 2001, offered biblical readings. It was a scene, he said, that was somewhat reminiscent of another unexpected and tragic event in American history.
“I was a student here during 9/11,” Pomerville recalled. “There were similar spontaneous gatherings in the chapel to talk and try to make sense of things. This isn’t quite the same, but it seemed close.”
Outside of the chapel, students continued to gather.
The Alma College Choir, whose scheduled tour of Ireland was delayed due to travel restrictions, gathered on the library steps to perform “Loch Lomond” before an audience of misty eyes. Senior Laureano Thomas-Sanchez played songs on the bagpipes, to the delight of those passing by.
The Scots cheerleading and dance teams, who were in line to compete for national championships before the pandemic struck, instead showcased their talents in an impromptu performance. The Scots lacrosse team, who were scheduled to host senior day festivities at halftime of their game on Saturday, continued on with their plans to honor the four seniors on their team — despite the game being canceled just one hour before kickoff.
“It meant a lot to have my parents there and to be on the field with my team one last time,” said Olivia Benoit, a senior on the lacrosse team. “It was such a whirlwind week and a lot of emotions were running through, but I felt like the college did a lot to send us off the right way.”
Pomerville said Alma College often touts its “small-town, familial spirit.” On that weekend, he said, the college more than earned its billing.