History Repeats

John Wesselink

John Wesselink, Central’s President from 1925-34, had the unhappy duty of calling off Commencement for the class of 1930 due to a smallpox epidemic. It was “a great disappointment to the graduation class and to all concerned,” he wrote.

In 2020, many high school, college and university graduations were put on hold worldwide — including Central College’s. As President Mark Putnam notes, at Central there is a 90-year-old precedent.

His President’s Corner essay [“We’ve (Almost) Been Through this Before,” Spring 2020, Page 1] told the story of the commencement-canceling small-pox quarantine of 1930, citing then-President John Wesselink’s May 24, 1930, diary entry.

We thought you might be interested in the student perspective of that event. In its May 30, 1930, edition, The Central Ray captured emotions that resonate with those of the Central community in May 2020:

“NO COMMENCEMENT AT CENTRAL,” announced the page-one headline. “Plans, Hopes, Expectations All Shattered By Small Pox Quarantine” continued the subhead.

“The most dramatic moment of the year was perhaps when Dean Henry Pietenpol announced at the dorm before breakfast that because of the smallpox quarantine all college functions except examinations must be called off. …

“What can be more deplorable than Commencement without friends and family, church and speaker, music and oratory, pomp and circumstance? …

“Plans made months ago were broken and made over by dozens. Telegraph wires fairly sizzled … [Parents’] is the greatest disappointment of all; theirs was the sacrifice for their young hopefuls; theirs was to have been a well-dressed reward … .

“No one fears contagion; all are vividly mindful only of the dulling of one of life’s brightest hours. … This is not an editorial … but only to attempt to record the spirit of the time.”

According to another article in the same issue of the student newspaper, the 24-student senior class “slowly marched into the chapel Thursday evening, May 29, 1930. The small audience of students allowed to be present stood in respect … President John Wesselink … expressed the regret of all, that no public gathering was possible.”

The “spirit of the time” is similar this year. The plans were different: Central held commencement for the Class of 2020 Sunday, Sept. 27, one with most of the features of a traditional ceremony.

The Class of 1930 would approve.

Best Wishes To the Class of 2020!

You don’t have to be a member of the Class of 1930 to offer a heartfelt congratulations to an exceptional class. Many Central College alumni wrote to offer theirs. Here are snippets from a few of those received:

“Congrats, Class of 2020! You’ll always have a unique set of memories to bind you — a bond you’ll share with all 2020 graduates across the country and even the world. May it inspire you to a special sense of community and solidarity. We’re rooting for you!”

— Hilary Hekel ’02

“You have arrived at the finish line — graduation — and it is playing out differently than anyone could have imagined. Times are uncertain and a new normal is coming. The world needs Central grads — those who are determined, who strive for excellence, who look for the best in others and who are ready to go out and make a difference in the world. As you go out into the world, remember that you ARE part of the Central family and we stick together. We will be here to support you on this next journey. And remember, You Are Forever Dutch!”

— Brian ’80 and Lori Humphrey Fegley ’80

“This year is like no other before and probably no other to come. But it’s still your year and it will always be special and memorable for you and your families. There will be more times in the future to gather, celebrate and cheer each other. I remember 41 years ago, when all the ceremony and celebration was over, pausing and thinking to myself, ‘Now what?’ Believe me, the best is yet to come! Scary? Absolutely. Exciting? Oh, yeah!”

— Alan Van Zee ’79

“Thank you for the resilience you have shown during this challenging close to your career at Central. More than that though, thank you for the vibrancy, the caring and the academic diligence that has been a hallmark of your class during the last four years. In your honor, I am making a donation today to the Central Cares Fund, to help the students following behind you, who will always remember the leadership example you have set for them. Good luck in this next stage of your life. Continue to hold dear the memories of your time at Central. Congratulations on your graduation!

— Lanny Little ’74

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