The Class of 2026 arrived at Gettysburg College amid a sea of smiles, laughs, and happy tears on a warm and sunny Move-In Day on Aug. 24, 2022, ready to pursue the next step in their journey toward building a better future for themselves and the world around them.
With orange and blue adorning every corner of campus, Orientation student leaders and Residential Education staff greeted each new member of our community, ready and willing to help unpack their vehicles, which were filled to the brim with clothes, furnishings, and all the college essentials. Over the course of the past two weeks, Gettysburg welcomed 649 members in the Class of 2026, including students from 30 states and 26 countries.
“For some of you, this is the first time you’ve been in Gettysburg, or in Pennsylvania, or perhaps in the United States,” said President Bob Iuliano to the Class of 2026 at the opening Convocation ceremony. “I’m guessing you’re all feeling a sea of emotions: excited, anxious, uncertain, and eager to get started.
“Gettysburg is a special place. It’s a place where special friendships are formed,” Iuliano added. “And in a shorter time than you can imagine, you will find your community here.”
The spirit of Gettysburg was on full display, with every member of the community providing words of encouragement to the Class of 2026, a talented group that was chosen from more than 5,700 applications. Nearly 65 percent of the class participated in community service, and students held 876 leadership positions prior to arriving at Gettysburg. In each Gettysburgian she saw sitting in front of Pennsylvania Hall, Convocation student speaker Miranda Zamora ’23 felt hopeful for their potential and their growth at the College.
“In the coming days, you will come to the same realization that every student has had during their time at Gettysburg, and that is that you all were chosen to be here for good reason,” said Zamora, a political science major. “In a short bit, you will walk through these doors of Penn Hall to make your entry into the next four years of your life in the same way that, by the end of this spring, I will be walking out of these same doors to greet the next stage of my life. It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in those same chairs that you all sit in now.”
As the Student Senate president, an Admissions tour guide, a Zumba instructor, and a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, all unique opportunities which fueled her own growth at Gettysburg, Zamora was able to learn more about herself and her future after graduation—an important closing message she shared with the Class of 2026.
“Since the moment I stepped foot on this campus, I have seen so much change in myself,” Zamora said. "I’ve experienced three years of growth: three years of making new friends, lifelong friends, [and] three years of discovering myself—who I am, what I believe, and how I will make my own mark on the world.
“Each and every one of you will have the chance to see that change in yourselves too,” she continued. “You all have been given an amazing opportunity to discover who you are, whether it be by joining different groups on campus, meeting new people on your floors, or by taking advantage of the diverse selection of courses provided here for you.”
Environmental Studies Prof. Tasha Gownaris ’09 remembered being in the same position as the Class of 2026 when she matriculated in the fall of 2005. Citing her recent research on seabirds as part the Cross-Discplinary Science Institute (X-SIG) this past summer in Maine, Gownaris likened this important day for the newest Gettysburgians to seabird chicks leaving their nests on land for life on the ocean—a moment called fledging. Despite never having seen the ocean firsthand, these fledglings know how to swim, dive, find food, and “discover they are capable of far more than they ever imagined,” she said.
“Incoming students, you are about to fledge,” Gownaris added. “Regardless of your background, this will be a new, sometimes scary, and often exciting world that you are entering. You have most of the skills you need to navigate this world already, either innately or through your lived experiences. Others you will build along the way.”
With each new experience uncovered and each new skill attained, Gettysburg College students have a support system by their side, from our professors to our chefs, dedicated to helping them succeed in and out of the classroom: “We want to see you take flight,” Gownaris said.
The ecologist, like many of her colleagues at the College, has witnessed firsthand the importance of student-faculty engagement through research opportunities, like this X-SIG, which was in collaboration with two current students and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She first discovered this core value of the Gettysburg liberal arts and sciences education through her work with Emeritus Prof. John Committo, who also served as her faculty advisor.
“I learned so much here, about myself and about the world, and I strongly believe in the College’s approach to education,” said Gownaris. “You will find that this is a common thread among the people here. We care deeply about our students and we are so thankful for the opportunity to learn with you and partner alongside you.”
Like seabirds adapting within rapidly changing environments, the Class of 2026 stood ready to bring new ideas to face the challenges of our time. Referencing the parable of the tortoise and the hare, Iuliano advised the Class of 2026 to break through the certainties they know about life and embrace new perspectives to allow for “true growth,” as they are joining a network of more than 32,000 Gettysburgians seeking to better themselves and the world.
“Authentic learning starts with an openness to understandings different from your own,” said Iuliano. “The challenge ahead for your education is to be open to new ways of thinking and being—to question what until now might have been unquestioned assumptions about how the world works and your place in it.”
In his final charge to keep the “spirit of exploration” alive in the pursuit of knowledge, Iuliano shared a quote from Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451:” “Stuff your eyes with wonder. … See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream.”
“Class of 2026, four years from now, we’ll convene in this very spot, with your collegiate experience having concluded. It’ll be here before you know it,” Iuliano concluded. “Take it all in. Perhaps most importantly, be a full part of our community.”
By Corey Jewart
Photos by Shawna Sherrell