Belleville’s final undergrad students forced to say goodbye earlier than expected


The main hall that greets people once entering the Lindenwood University-Belleville campus.

Kayla Drake, Managing Editor

Lindenwood University-Belleville’s last undergraduate class didn’t have a proper goodbye.

The commencement that was supposed to be a final celebration was foiled by the pandemic. Instead, students scrambled to leave campus in March after the university called off on-ground classes for the rest of the semester.

Only afterwards did it dawn on students and faculty that it was the last time they would be on campus this semester, and for some, ever. 

“It didn’t hit us honestly until we started making decisions on graduation,” Associate Provost Renee Porter said. “It’s not how we hoped to say goodbye.”

A total of 129 Belleville students were supposed to walk in May, Porter said. Belleville was originally slated to have a separate graduation, but because of the pandemic, now seniors are invited back to walk with St. Charles graduates in December 2020.

A typical Lindenwood-Belleville graduation ceremony was held in the gymnasium, family and friends posing for pictures after the ceremony.

Lindenwood announced it was closing all undergraduate programs last year on the Belleville campus, after school officials found out it needed over $25 million in renovations. Students could either finish the 2019-20 academic year at Belleville or transfer; most chose to stay

Remnants of student body say goodbye to “small-town” campus

After the December graduation, Porter said 332 students remained on campus. Rumors circled that Belleville wouldn’t open up for the spring semester, but they proved false. 

Seniors that chose to finish their degree at Belleville have a unique position in the campus’ history, a title that few undergrads hold.

“I don’t know very many people who can say they were the last class of a college,” Madison Stapleton said. 

The fact that Stapleton is in the last graduating class propelled her to show up at nearly every sporting event in the spring semester, she said.

Madison Stapleton
Madison Stapleton said some of her favorite memories from the last semester are dozens of students showing up to root on the Lynx men’s hockey team.

“We all knew it was all coming to an end, so we all were trying to have that one last hurrah,” she said.

Belleville was an institution built around athletics, with 78% of the students on sports scholarships. 

In fact, senior Marisol Chavez-Delgado, a basketball player, said it was weird meeting people who didn’t play a sport on campus. The typical introduction went, “Hi, I’m this and I play this sport,” Chavez-Delgado said.

Students, like Chavez-Delgado and Stapleton (a softball player), said they kept coming back for the small-town feel. 

“I knew pretty much everybody on campus…. Even if I didn’t know their name, I knew I saw them at a sporting game or somewhere else,” Stapleton said.

Looking forward, students hope for closure

Being an alum is different if there is no homecoming to come back to campus for. It’s a challenge that Rachel Heuermann, the new director of alumni services, has been tasked with solving. 

Multiple Belleville seniors reached out to Heuermann to say they were upset when they learned Belleville will not have a separate graduation in December. 

So now, Heuermann who is in charge of building programming for alumni, said she is planning a celebration on the Belleville campus when social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Still, Chavez-Delgado, who is from California, said she will probably not make it back in December and walk, especially when so many of her international friends cannot return.

“I didn’t see the point of it, if we’re all not going to be there,” she said.

Ninety percent of students at Belleville were either from out-of-state or international. 

When Chavez-Delgado thinks about not having an alumni basketball game to come back to or coaches to visit, she said she’ll look at pictures instead.

“I had good memories there, that’s the only thing I can hold on to really,” she said.

Chavez-Delgado’s favorite memory of college was when the women’s basketball team went to a travel tournament in Hawaii during its last season, which ended a week before the pandemic hit. Facing the top-ranked Menlo University on the court, Chavez-Delgado said the Belleville Lynx looked like the underdogs.

Marisol Chavez-Delgado
Marisol Chavez-Delgado, top right, poses with her team in front of the Hawaii mountains.

“I feel like we don’t look like a basketball team in general, we don’t have the height, we don’t look super athletic… but when we have fun playing, that’s when we really shine,” she said.

The Lynx beat Menlo University 69-57 and celebrated on the beach afterwards, Chavez-Delgado said.

Stapleton said the end of her college career has been bittersweet because she never got the official goodbye a commencement ceremony could have offered, especially for the university’s final class. 

“The Belleville students kind of get stuck in a corner and it’s like ‘Oh yeah, here are the Belleville students,’” she said. “So, I wish we were able to have a graduation on our campus, even if it’s in December, even if we have to unlock the doors.”

Lindenwood will continue to own the Belleville campus. Starting Fall 2020, only accelerated degree programs will remain at Belleville.

Around 124 Belleville students are planning to transfer to Lindenwood-St. Charles next year, Porter said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated what programs will still exist on Belleville’s campus in Fall 2020.