When faced with a challenging set of circumstances, one has the choice to allow it to either defeat them, or strengthen them, and Gettysburgians have historically chosen the latter. It’s who they are.
The COVID-19 outbreak changed the course of the 2020 Spring Semester, making it one unlike any in modern times. Through it all, the Class of 2020 was resilient. When they found themselves in an unimaginable situation that kept them apart physically, the graduating class rallied together virtually to surmount the obstacles before them, and found opportunity in adversity.
In recognition of the significance of Sunday, May 17, the original Commencement date that has since been postponed to Oct. 10, Gettysburg College held a Senior Celebration to honor seniors on this special day. As part of the Senior Celebration, departmental receptions were held for graduates via Zoom, and at 11 a.m. on May 17, when the Commencement Ceremony was originally scheduled to take place, a series of videos premiered on the College’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The videos featured a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” sung by Sunderman Conservatory of Music alumni, remarks from Senior Class President Callie Fucarino ’20, and remarks from President Bob Iuliano, who also officially conferred degrees. The video program concluded with faculty well wishes.
As alumni Molly Clark ’17, Isaac Hawkins ’18, Eddie Holmes ’18, Meghan (Riley) Kennedy ’17, and Kelly Reymann ’18 harmonized to “This Little Light of Mine,” the video cut to various illuminated spaces across campus—Kline Theatre, the College Union Building, the Majestic Theater marquee, and Clark Field, among others—in celebration of the idea that the Gettysburg experience is a light that cannot be dimmed, a point which Fucarino touched on in her remarks.
“As much as I wish we were gathered today, sweating in our caps and gowns, trying not to fall down the stairs of Penn Hall as our friends and families watched, I know the reason we aren’t is bigger than us,” Fucarino said. “And I urge you to remember that the last two months have only proven that our community cannot be undermined. That our education from this institution is invaluable, and we have a special place that’s really difficult to say goodbye to, and will always have a piece of our hearts.”
Following Fucarino’s remarks, Iuliano addressed the Class of 2020, inviting them to consider the phrase “When I grow up”—a phrase born of a desire to chart one’s own path in life. It was within this context which he charged the soon-to-be graduates with two final requests: to take pride in how they responded to a set of unforeseeable circumstances; and to continue to advance Abraham Lincoln’s unfinished work of creating a more just and resilient society.
“Class of 2020, this is your work. Your time at this College has prepared you to shape and reshape society. You have learned to think, both logically and creatively. You have developed the capacity to understand issues through new lenses and beyond boundaries. You have practiced compassion and empathy. You have built bridges across difference,” Iuliano said. “And, most of all, you have seen that the best solutions are rooted not in our narrow self-interest but in advancing the collective good. In short, you have grown up and into the person your childhood self would be proud of.”
Iuliano then officially conferred degrees, and the program concluded with uplifting words from several faculty members. They lauded the newest Gettysburg College alumni for their resilience and determination, and shared foresight into the bright futures that await the Class of 2020 as they pursue lives of meaning and purpose, all of which will be celebrated in-person soon.
“I can’t wait to see you back here in October, and we can celebrate this graduation the right way,” said Chairperson and Prof. of Political Science Bruce Larson. “Until then, savor your accomplishments, and congratulations.”
Stay up to date with information about the College’s 185th Commencement ceremony, set to take place on May 8, 2021 in Gettysburg.
(Updated July 2, 2020. When this story was first published, Commencement was scheduled to take place on October 10, 2020.)
By Molly Foster