Four years ago, the members of the Class of 2023 arrived on campus wondering what exciting new opportunities they would encounter, and what seemingly impossible mountains they would scale. Despite unprecedented challenges, these graduates came together as a community to seize every moment to its fullest, creating a legacy of leadership to guide their communities in the years that will follow their graduation from Gettysburg College.
The Class of 2023 and its incredible accomplishments and unparalleled journey were on full display as part of the College’s 188th Commencement on Saturday, May 13.
“I am so impressed with the future you have created here, and even more so in who you have become,” said President Bob Iuliano, who arrived on campus in 2019, only a few weeks before the Class of 2023 began their journey at Gettysburg. “Some of you have heard me remark that I see myself as a member of your class, given our shared arrival to campus. I regard it as one of the true honors of my life to be ever bound to this special group of Gettysburg graduates.”
Iuliano referred to the message that adorned the T-shirts members of the Class of 2023 wore during their Orientation four years ago: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” While the future at times seemed daunting and unpredictable, the members of the Class of 2023 never lost hope and--bolstered by a strong network of support on campus--maintained a steadfast belief in themselves that they could make an impact and help build a better world.
Iuliano shared the story of Sneha Shrestha ’10, who grew up in Nepal and vowed to use her Gettysburg education to help improve the lives of the people in her home country. Shrestha has become one of the preeminent graffiti artists in the world and established Nepal’s first Children’s Art Museum.
“The world needs people who are willing to make that climb,” noted Iuliano. “But we shouldn’t think that the only stories that matter—the only contributions that matter—are the ones that receive the most attention. At any level, perhaps especially at the most local, the people who run toward the challenges of their time are making every difference.”
This year’s student speaker, Anna L. Benson ’23, who majored in Spanish, public policy, and international and global studies, recounted the unpredictable journey she and her classmates had endured. She described the way the Gettysburg community helped bring them all to their graduation day, the way family supported them, the way faculty and staff mentored and guided them, and the way the class as a whole came together despite a variety of challenges.
“We are not the same students who entered campus four years ago,” said Benson, who recalled the inquisitive squirrels that knocked out power on campus during Orientation and the thunderstorms which delayed their First-Year Walk four years ago. “We are stronger and brighter than our first-year selves, and the relationships we have developed with our classmates, coaches, and mentors have all played a vital role in leading us to this moment. This is because Gettysburg College thrives on the power of community.”
With their impending graduation from Gettysburg just moments away, the Class of 2023 received an opportunity to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of several individuals whose impact on Gettysburg and their communities has left indelible marks. President Iuliano and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Lori Kono Clapp ’73 presented the Lavern H. Brenneman ’36 Award for Exemplary Volunteer Service to Gettysburg College and two honorary degrees. Patricia W. Henry ’71 received the Brenneman Award in recognition of her dedication to the College and higher education, while John “Jack” Hewes P’01 was given an honorary doctorate, Doctor of Science in Business Administration, to recognize his many years of impactful contributions to finance.
The second honorary degree recipient was this year’s featured Commencement speaker, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who was presented with an honorary Doctor of Public Service. The first female Deputy Secretary of State, Sherman has encountered her share of uncertainty and “tectonic shifts” in her three decades of service to the U.S. government. Like the graduates before her, she adjusted and adapted to situations as they arose and used her knowledge, skills, and experience to help guide her through.
“Still, in the face of so much unpredictability, you should leave here with confidence—confidence in yourselves and your classmates, confidence in your character and knowledge, confidence in what this school has taught you and how you’ve grown along the way,” she said.
Deputy Secretary Sherman, who announced her pending retirement from the Department of State on May 12, profiled the great work done by members of the class, citing the “experiential education that is a hallmark of this College” and highlighting service learning trips, study abroad, and the Eisenhower Institute. Through these learning opportunities and many more similar experiences, the Class of 2023 developed a depth of knowledge and set of enduring skills that will help them lead their generation against the uncertainty inherent in the world today.
“It’s with those building blocks beneath your feet and that diploma in your hands that you’ll be ready to face the unpredictability of tomorrow with courage, confidence, and hope,” said Deputy Secretary Sherman. “Then decades from now, your successors will be able to point to this class as the one that embraced the uncertainty before them and assumed responsibility for the unfinished work of creating a future of strength, prosperity, peace, and possibility.”
“It’s with those building blocks beneath your feet and that diploma in your hands that you’ll be ready to face the unpredictability of tomorrow with courage, confidence, and hope.”—Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to the Class of 2023.”
Following Deputy Secretary Sherman’s remarks, President Iuliano returned to the podium alongside Provost Chris Zappe to confer degrees to the 578 members of the Class of 2023. Capping the procession were this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian—Bryn Werley ’23 of Wernersville, Pennsylvania, and Jack Herr ’23 of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.
With degrees in hand and satisfied smiles defying the trickle of raindrops from above, the Class of 2023 was imbued with one final charge from President Iuliano before they set out to make a consequential impact on their communities and the world.
“As you leave this campus, I ask that you trust yourselves,” Iuliano implored the graduates. “Continue to ask the hard questions, to be open to new points of view, to live in service of others, but always to think for yourself. The strength of our society is predicated on the willingness of people like you to advocate for your viewpoints.”
Read President Iuliano’s full remarks.
Photo Gallery from Commencement Weekend
By Corey Jewart
Photos by Jason Minick and Casey Martin Photography