It’s the “ordinary instances,” as acclaimed writer Joan Didion coined it, that shape us. These little moments often go overlooked, but when pieced together—one by one—they give clarity and meaning to our lives.
For the Gettysburg College Class of 2021, a few of these small but meaningful moments over the last four years might include: receiving their orange and blue acceptance letter during their senior year of high school, taking a bite of their first Servo cookie, a “Hello” that led to a lifelong mentor or friend, or a class that unearthed a passion and shepherded their next steps.
On May 17, our now newest alumni were reunited in Musselman Stadium and cheered on by faculty, families, and friends in-person and across the world via livestream—celebrating the culmination of these “ordinary instances” during Gettysburg College’s 186th Commencement.
In his welcoming remarks, President Bob Iuliano guided graduates through reflecting on how their collection of experiences from their time at Gettysburg are instrumental to the leaders they will become and invaluable to the change they’ll bring about in the years ahead. This spurred further reflection by student speaker Anna Cincotta ’21, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science and peace and justice studies.
Cincotta considers herself a planner. She often likes to know how things will end. However, speaking on behalf of her peers, she shared that some of the most transformational moments from her time at Gettysburg College were when she strayed from her plan, was taken out of her comfort zone, and explored new ideas and perspectives. Without the twists and turns, Cincotta said she wouldn’t be who she is today.
“After reflecting on the past four years, I’ve also come to realize that this Commencement ceremony is special in so many ways because of the uncertain, complicated, and unprecedented time we find ourselves in. Think about it: After a year defined by caring for each other from a distance, we’re safely gathered in a space to celebrate a finish line that isn’t really a finish line, and there’s so much hope in that,” Cincotta said. “Crystal balls are overrated, and uncertainty is impossible to avoid. But we’re ready, Class of 2021. We’ve never been more ready. I just know it.”
Jean Driscoll, Marian Wright Edelman—both of whom attended the ceremony virtually—and Commencement Speaker Michael Brown all received honorary degrees. In his remarks to the Class of 2021, Brown, co-founder and senior advisor of City Year, talked about the importance of joy and taking joy seriously by finding the work that gives you purpose and brings you joy and pursuing it wholeheartedly. This mindset is what led him to start City Year.
“A parable I love speaks about three people who are all hard at work and doing the exact same thing,” Brown said. “A traveler greets the first person and asks, ‘Can you tell me what you are doing?’ The first person responds, ‘I am breaking rocks.’ The traveler moves to the second person and asks the same question. ‘I am earning a living’ is the response. Finally, the traveler asks the third person, ‘and what, may I ask, are you doing?’ And with a broad smile, the third person replies, ‘I am building a cathedral!’ Purpose changes everything, and public purpose doesn’t just change the world, it changes us. You all have untold powers to improve our world and make our democracy flourish.”
Iuliano shared the same sentiments in his final charge to graduates, encouraging them to make a difference in their communities and their workplaces, and to forge new and wider paths for all people—to rise.
“Rise to the occasion of this defining moment. Rise to capture the spirit of this time and this place. Rise to the challenges confronting our country and our planet. Rise in the cause of justice for those who have been silenced and pushed aside for too long. Rise to be the leaders and the voices for change that we know you can be,” Iuliano charged the Class. “Now it is your turn to pursue the great and unfinished work. To make a better world. To be a source of extraordinary light in these most extraordinary times.”
Following the Commencement ceremony, the Army ROTC Commissioning Ceremony took place. On Sunday, May 16, graduates and their families and friends participated in a virtual Baccalaureate ceremony.
[UPDATE: Commencement Recap/Degree Conferral video is now available.] On Sunday, May 23, a special Commencement recap video will be released at noon on the Commencement website and the College’s social media channels. In this video, President Iuliano will officially confer degrees to the Class of 2021.
By Molly Foster
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Jason Minick