College graduation: Finlandia holds commencement ceremony

Photo provided by Finlandia University Students celebrate at Finlandia University’s commencement ceremony Thursday.

HANCOCK — There were no hugs or handshakes (though fist bumps and elbow bumps were OK).

Masked and socially distanced, 63 Finlandia University graduates were able to celebrate with an in-person commencement Thursday night, the first to be held in the university’s Hirvonen College of Health Sciences Auditorium.

Delivering the student address was Ramona Kuhn, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in ceramics.

The St. Cloud, Minnesota, native graduated with a 4.0. She participated in student leadership programs and community services activities, and also studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She combined ceramics skills and a drive to serve in her 2019 Illuminarie Mug Project — a limited series of 100 cups to raise awareness for suicide prevention after losing a high school classmate to suicide.

Kuhn delivered a list of things she’s learned in her time at Finlandia. First, have a good work ethic. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And nobody has it all figured out, so fake it ’til you make it.

“I’ve for sure done this when I’ve had to present my finished artwork, and it’s really when the smile-and-nod routine comes in handy,” she said. “And then you start saying things like, ‘Yes, that is how i intended for that to go.'”

Her last item: “Going to school during a pandemic sucks.”

“This is not how we pictured getting our diploma, but here we are now,” she said. “There’s been more hurdles and struggles over the last year and a half than anyone would have dreamed of. But I believe that we’ll come out of this stronger.”

The pandemic had given Kuhn a chance to reexamine her priorities and reflect on the things and people that truly matter to her, she said.

The commencement speaker was Phyllis Fredendall, who had been a fiber and fashion design instructor and professor at Finlandia for 30 years before retiring in 2020.

Her own path to Finlandia was winding, with a pre-academic career that included working in a corn-canning factory, driving a cab and working as a parts picker in an auto factory. She found her way to Finlandia after volunteering at the Copper Country Community Arts Center.

“When it happens, you will know and if you’re not sure and are still searching, take heart,” she said. “Listen to yourself, and don’t try to please others in the pursuit of your career.”

The tumult of the past year and a half, whether the pandemic or through racial injustice, has forced a reckoning in this country, Fredendall said. As an example of hope, she cited Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arredondo, a graduate of what was then Suomi College, who testified along with other senior officers for the prosecution against officer Derek Chauvin.

“This pandemic has caused a massive crack,” she said, fighting back tears. “There’s light coming in from all sides, and you are graduating into that light. You will leave this commencement, this beginning today, preparing for a project that engages and challenges you: the rest of your wonderful life.”


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