185th Commencement Ceremony – September 26, 2021

September 26, 2021
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The 185th Commencement Ceremony honoring the Class of 2020 was delayed to September 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Delivered.

Greetings and Opening Comments

Good morning, and welcome to the 185th Commencement exercises of Gettysburg College. And a very special welcome back to campus to our Class of 2020!

Today, we gather in this familiar setting for a celebration as novel as any in our College’s history. Together, we are here—family and friends, faculty and staff, students and alumni—to recognize you. To acknowledge and appreciate the enduring footprints you left on this College, your alma mater. To reflect on the many ways your time here helped shape you into the person you are today and to ready you for a world as complex as any Gettysburg graduates have seen in generations.

Like so many of us this morning, I found myself overcome with joy in seeing this most deserving class process back through Pennsylvania Hall as Gettysburg College graduates. It is the bookend of a tradition more than five years in the making, dating back to August 2016, when you officially joined our ranks as first-year students at Opening Convocation.

Of course, nobody then could have foreseen all that your college experience would entail or the unprecedented journey you would embark on together. Your path back to Pennsylvania Hall has neither been straight nor always easy, especially as a global pandemic disrupted the culminating semester of your College career. I’m sure that for many of you, those early days must seem like a distant memory.

Yet, in the context of this special ceremony and your return to this special place, I’d like to go back to the very beginning of your time here—and to revisit the words of a fellow Gettysburg alumnus, words that foreshadowed all that your class would accomplish and overcome.

The day following your Move-In and Convocation, you assembled right over there, outside of the Chapel for your First-Year Walk. Together, you processed through the heart of our town to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. And in that sacred space, you sat among a group of Gettysburgians who were then complete strangers to you.

In the months and years ahead, those strangers would become your classmates, and those classmates would ultimately become many of your best friends. These are the people who walked beside you during your time at the College—shoulder to shoulder, up every hill and around every bend. Celebrating accomplishments, helping through challenges.

The keynote speaker that evening was an alumnus by the name of Chris Gwynn. Chris is a graduate of the Class of 2006 and a Supervisory Park Ranger of Interpretation and Education for the National Military Park. He made it a special point to be here for you today.

In his remarks to your class, Chris captured the essence of this College and our aspirations for our students. He said, and here I quote:

“Wherever you go at Gettysburg, whatever you do, you are surrounded by history.

By going to school here, you become—even if only in a small way—a part of that history.

You’re afforded the opportunity to contribute to it, to write your own story in the same book as Abraham Lincoln’s—and that’s a history you started writing a few days ago. You’re writing it right now.

So, I challenge you all to find your great task.

I challenge you to define what your great work will be, and remember to do great work, but also that it takes work to live greatly.”

Class of 2020, you have spent the most consequential years of your life immersed in one of the most consequential places in the nation. A place that could fill libraries with its stories of struggle, belief, and hope. The story you have written here is timeless.

This is where you found each other. This is where you came to see the world through a more sophisticated, nuanced, and critical eye. Where you learned more about who you are, who you want to be, and the future you want for yourself.

It’s where you experienced new cultures and perspectives, created art and music, conducted research, discovered your passions, and where eight members of this class brought 30,000 Gettysburgians to their feet by winning back-to-back women’s lacrosse national championships.

This is where you laughed together, where you cried together, and where you grew into the person you are today.

And while the sun set on your Gettysburg experience earlier than we had hoped, amid that that sadness, 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.

You did great work—and you did it for one another.

Graduates, the story of our lives is about the people we love and the places we call home. I promise you, you have both here.

And while the words you’ve written at this College will gain clarity only with time, celebrating while the ink is still drying is a rare and beautiful thing.

Our ceremony today awards us that opportunity.

So, enjoy the festivities. The caps and gowns. Seeing friends and teammates. Reconnecting with professors and mentors. And finally walking across this stage. You deserve every minute of it.

Class of 2020, congratulations!

Stole of Gratitude Presentation

Thank you, Provost Zappe, and again, congratulations graduates.

As we have sought to convey throughout today’s ceremony, we as a community recognize just how difficult the past 18 months have been for you. We know the sacrifices you were forced to make and how different the conclusion of your Gettysburg experience was from what you had planned.

We want you to know just how proud we are of you—and of all that you accomplished and of all that you personify as Gettysburgians.

So, in honor of this extraordinary Class of 2020, and as an expression of our gratitude for the example you’ve set for every class hence and for future generations of Gettysburg students, we bestow on you a special gift.

When you walk across this stage in a few short moments you will be awarded the first and only Stole of Gratitude this College has ever given to a graduating class.

We are grateful to you, Class of 2020. We are grateful for your return to the campus you called home for so many years. We are grateful for the connections you forged to this place and to its people. We are grateful for the contributions you have made to this College. We are grateful for the leadership you demonstrated in the context of a global public health challenge without any recent precedent. And we are grateful for the contributions you will undoubtedly make to a society that desperately needs you.

As a tangible sign of our appreciation, we are presenting you with this Stole of Gratitude. This is not a Stole you are to give to another, but rather, it is one the College places upon yourshoulders—the shoulders that carried the weight of this pandemic as Gettysburg seniors.

Your experience has been unique—and your perseverance and steadfast commitment to our College and to each other has not gone unnoticed. Thank you, Class of 2020. Congratulations.

The Charge to the Class of 2020

It is now both my responsibility and honor to deliver the charge to the Class of 2020.

I began my comments today by acknowledging your early days at the College, and the story you have written here, a story that has led you to this moment—seated among your family, friends, professors, and the many others who have offered you support and guidance along the way.

It is with this community’s steady encouragement that, as graduates, you have begun to lay the foundation for your careers. Pursuing graduate school and law school and medical school. Traveling. Finding your place in the world and making an impact.

As Callie so eloquently said, as alumni of Gettysburg College, you are now authoring the next great chapter in your life’s story.

Yet, as these last 18 months have so powerfully taught us, it’s important to remember that every page is a gift. One that you have the fortune of inscribing each day with an intentionality and spirit altogether fitting of the values you wish to leave behind.

The real challenge before you today is deciding what you will write with the pages you are given.

With that said, and inspired by the echoes of your First-Year Walk address all those many years ago, my charge to you in simply this: Live Greatly.

Lead a life worthy of reading. One of kindness, compassion, and understanding.

Learn from everyone, especially those who see from a vantage point distinct from your own.

Embrace the uphill climb. The harder path. Even the sprains and the stumbles. It is how we grow and keep growing, and it is how we get from here to where we are to intended to be.

And finally, be relentless in seeking out the good in life. The way forward. The sun between the clouds. Graduates, we see it within you. Help others to see it within themselves and in the world we can create together.

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.

We wish you the very, very, very best in your adventures ahead and in your chapters yet unwritten. We look forward to welcoming you back, now and again, over the years to come. Congratulations, and Do Great Work!