For St. Francis graduates, 'really means a lot' to share in-person commencement with classmates

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May 9—LORETTO — Nick Rinella had already finished his course work to obtain two majors and a minor, left St. Francis University and started a career in accounting.

But — until Saturday — he never got the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony.

No commencement was held for the Class of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend, the school scheduled four separate scaled-down graduation events inside the Maurice Stokes Athletic Center to honor both the Class of 2021 and last year's graduates.

So, Rinella, a Philadelphia resident, came back to receive his diploma on Saturday during a ceremony for the Shields School of Business.

"It's cool," Rinella said. "It's cool, especially for my parents. That's one thing they want to see. It's cool. You get to see all your friends. You've been away from people you graduated with for a year now. It really means a lot, coming back to Loretto. ... It's just awesome to be back, honestly. I'm glad they did it."

St. Francis President Rev. Malachi Van Tassell, T.O.R. told the graduates "you and the world are different than when you first arrived" and that "the pandemic has presented people with a choice between pusillanimity or magnanimity." Van Tassell said that in response to world events "defined as either chaotic or necessary, over-the-top or overdue, depending on one's perspective" the St. Francis community prays and engages respectfully.

Almost 1,200 graduates were honored — 570 from 2020 and 610 from 2021 — although many did not attend in person.

Shannon Herdman, a Johnstown resident, was among them.

She had both professional and personal motivation for earning a master's in human resource management.

"In my career, I do contracts and auditing works," Herdman said. "I'm an industrial specialist with DCMA (Defense Contract Management Agency). We have an office in Johnstown.

"I hope to be able to transition into doing more HR-related work. I find I like to work with people. And I already have the contracting side down. I'm hoping to be able to make a transition now to more people-focused work."

Herdman also hopes her graduation provides inspiration for her children.

"I wanted to show them that no matter what age you are, you can do it, and how important it is to get the degree and finish," Herdman, a 2001 Greater Johnstown High School graduate, said.