The Gettysburg College Class of 2020’s Commencement ceremony on September 26, 2021—postponed from May 2020—brought with it crisp fall weather, tight embraces, and familiar faces beaming with ear-to-ear smiles.
For many graduates, this special and sentimental day was the first time they saw their friends in more than a year and a half, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though, regardless of how much time had passed, it’s clear that coming back to Gettysburg and reconnecting with its familial community was like coming home.
In his opening remarks, Gettysburg College President Bob Iuliano welcomed the Class of 2020 back, and underscored the significance of this place and the lifelong value of its close-knit community. He then reflected on a message Chris Gwinn ’06, a supervisory park ranger of interpretation and education at the Gettysburg National Military Park, shared five years ago during the class’ First-Year Walk: Not only is this consequential place rooted in history, but it also gives each student who has stepped foot on its campus the opportunity to etch their story into history.
“I believe history will remember you as you are: a group of determined people showing us how to live in service of something bigger than ourselves,” Iuliano said. “You did great work—and you did it for one another.”
When Class of 2020 President Callie Fucarino ’20 addressed her peers, she spoke to her firsthand experiences at Gettysburg and struck an emotional chord—one rooted in nostalgia, pride, and hope for the future.
“To my fellow classmates, isn’t it good to be home?” Fucarino said. “It may be the rich history, the many traditions, the challenges we were given in this environment that fosters discovery, or the people making the place. Whatever it is that calls us home, I’m glad it does, and I’m certainly glad it’s called us back today to reflect and celebrate.”
Recognizing the challenges that the Class of 2020 faced and the growth that often comes from these challenging moments, Commencement Speaker Lauren W. Bright ’90 shared her own story of struggle, through which she found immense strength. During her early days at Gettysburg, Bright began to question whether or not she belonged here. One day, overwhelmed with doubt, she said she broke down in tears on the Musselman Library stairs. But shortly after, Bright—with the help of a comforting phone call with her dad and the support of faculty who saw her potential—built herself back up.
“I determined that whatever led me to Gettysburg would carry me through Gettysburg even if I couldn’t see how,” said Bright, who is now general counsel of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and director of its Washington, D.C., office. “I forced myself to lift out of my singular focus on the one thing that wasn’t great to think about all of the other things that were.”
Bright applauded the Class of 2020 for that same demonstrated resilience throughout their time at Gettysburg.
“You kept learning, kept working, and found a way through. Most importantly, you came back today. You didn’t have to, but you did. That’s what this experience was about—being part of a community that extends beyond your physical time on campus,” Bright said. “We hope you will keep coming back to your Gettysburg College home to re-center, refresh, reach out, and renew.”
Evidenced not only by the heartfelt remarks shared during the ceremony but more so even in their grit through uncertain times, the Class of 2020 is a unique class. During their senior year, they carried the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic on their shoulders.
As an expression of gratitude for their persistent dedication to the College and to each other, as each graduate’s name was called, they were bestowed the first-ever Stole of Gratitude given to a graduating class—a gift from the College.
As Iuliano looked out on the bright-eyed class adorned with these one-of-a-kind orange Stoles of Gratitude, he charged them to live greatly—lead a life worthy of reading, learn from everyone, embrace the uphill climb, and be relentless in seeking out the good in life.
“Class of 2020, you have everything you need to live greatly, and it’s all around you. This is a community that believes in you. And we always will,” Iuliano said.
Check back on Wednesday, September 29, for a recap video from the ceremony.
Commencement photo gallery
By Molly Foster
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Jason Minick