President Iuliano’s remarks as delivered to the Class of 2021 at the Countdown to Commencement Celebration on Stine Lake, April 18, 2021.
It is truly wonderful to see you all tonight. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to say a few words to you all, as we countdown the final days leading to your graduation from Gettysburg College.
Before getting to the heart of my comments tonight, I want to start by expressing my deepest thanks to two groups.
The first is the members of the senior class who played an instrumental role in organizing today’s events. I have quickly come to learn, in part through my conversations with members of the Class of ’21, how much traditions matter at the College. Especially given everything this class has been through, it makes me particularly thankful that we have the opportunity to celebrate this tradition, even if in a different form than we might in a typical year. But, then again, it’s hardly surprising that we’re doing things a little different; we’ve become very accustomed to that over the past three semesters.
The second note of thanks is for the entire senior class, and this also relates to traditions and the special responsibility you all have carried over the past two years. Traditions help shape culture, and the culture here is heavily focused on our sense of community, on what it means to be part of this place, of how we relate to and support one another.
Two of our classes—the first-years and sophomores—have not directly experienced the College without the heavy imprint of the pandemic. And yet, I know that many of them have come to value and understand what it means to be a member of the Gettysburg College community. Their orientation to the College did not happen by accident, but in part because of what you—the senior class—modeled, in the ways in which so many of you have held true to the essence of this place, in both the residential and non-residential contexts, even in the midst of the challenges of the last year.
Because of the pandemic, your class has carried a special burden, one unmatched by any senior class in recent memory. But the ways in which you have responded, the approach you have taken to these challenging times, will not only have shaped you and your experience—it will positively shape the College for years to come. So, from the perspective of someone who has watched this transmission of culture and values take place from class to class, and who has watched in admiration how you all have tackled this challenging time, thank you.
I want to turn now to two numbers: 1,334 and 29.
I’ll start with 1,334. It was exactly that many days ago that you convened in front of the Beachem Portico and formally matriculated as Gettysburg College students. It was a clear and warm day, the 186th time the College had welcomed a new class to its grounds. You heard from many people that day—including Professor McKinley Melton reflecting on the rally by white supremacists, and the resulting violence that engulfed Charlottesville, Virginia, less than two weeks earlier.
I wasn’t at the Convocation, of course, but I’m confident that many of you were feeling a swirl of emotions on that warm August day. A bit of sadness since, with the conclusion of the Convocation ceremony, it was time to say goodbye to your parents, loved ones, and friends who brought you to campus. Excitement about the adventure that lay ahead. Anxiety about how you would fit in, whether you’d find a home here, who would be your friends, what in the world it meant to be a college student.
1,334 days. So much has happened since then.
You are now on the heels of a different transition, but I suspect that many of the emotions you felt in 2017 have resurrected. A tinge of sadness as this chapter of your life closes and you say a form of goodbye to friends who have traveled this journey with you over the past four years. Excitement about the next chapter, whether it be graduate school, no more school, an interesting job, or even a chance to catch your breath. And, yes, anxiety, about what awaits and how you will navigate it all.
But you are not the person you were in August 2017. You have experienced so much in those four years.
Yes, a pandemic that has disrupted so many aspects of our lives and educational activities, and, of course, defined global activities over that period.
An unparalleled transition in the U.S. presidency, following by a presidency that everyone, regardless of political views, would agree was very different from any before it.
More parochially, and I hope less dramatically, a transition in the College’s presidency, something that has happened only 14 other times in our history.
From the events in Charlottesville in 2017 to the events in Minnesota today, a continuing, urgent call for racial justice.
On our Gettysburg campus: triumphs and defeats on the playing fields. Scores of musical and theatrical performances. The First-Year Walk, and more references to Lincoln and Eisenhower than you expected when you matriculated. Servo cookies, more Bullet Hole meals than you can count, the thousands of ways in which we celebrate here on campus through delicious food. Papers, and more papers. Exams, and more exams. Labs, experiments, presentations, parties, Battlefield walks, research with faculty members, hanging out in Musselman, late-night talks with friends, and so much more.
These events have helped shape who you are. Of this, I am confident, you are decidedly not the person you were 1,334 days ago. I am also confident that, as you have shown by how you have handled the past four years, and especially the past 14 months, you are ready for whatever awaits.
And, so, let’s go back to where we started, about the importance of traditions on this campus. In a few short weeks, we will assemble as one College for a tradition that is at the pinnacle of our academic calendar: our Commencement ceremony. Commencement is an opportunity for us to reflect, as an institution and as a community, on what we have navigated and overcome in this extraordinary year.
Family and loved ones, faculty and staff, coaches and mentors—together, we will gather at Mussleman Stadium for this first-of-its-kind Commencement ceremony. It is, of course, entirely fitting that this class put its own distinctive stamp our Commencement tradition given how many adaptations we’ve needed to make this past year to just about everything we’ve done. The cameras will turn to you and your classmates—in your caps and gowns—as 30,000 Gettysburgians around the world wait for you to join their ranks as Gettysburg College alumni.
And one by one, each of you will rise to be recognized as the person you are today, the person who has been shaped by the past four years, and the person who has left their mark on this College.
I cannot convey how much I am looking forward to May 17, and to celebrating with you and cheering you on during this one-of-a-kind Commencement Ceremony.
But, before I wind down, we need to reflect on the other number I mentioned: 29. There are 29 days before you graduate. Or, for the more mathematically inclined, the final 2% of your college career.
A question to consider tonight is how you might spend those 29 days.
First and foremost, let’s continue to look out for one another and ensure that we finish this semester strong. For our residential students, please continue to follow our health and safety protocols and make certain that the in-person Commencement we all want, and we have all worked so hard to obtain, indeed is realized to the fullest. For all of our students, remote and residential, it’s been a challenging semester on top of a challenging year—reach out to one another, support one another.
Second, savor these final precious moments of your senior year. Find an opportunity to talk with the faculty members who have meant so much to you, not just about classes but about life. For those on campus, walk a little more slowly across the grounds, absorbing the scents, sounds, and sights that have become second nature. Make time to grab lunch with a classmate or a teammate, in person or, yes, even remotely. Call a friend you haven’t seen, perhaps because they’re studying in a different mode than you. Enjoy International Food Fest. Each of these experiences you’ll carry with you for many years to come.
Lastly, and to return to a theme I’ve sounded, reflect on your growth these past four year. Make an effort to share your gratitude with those who helped you along the way. Remember the bonds you’ve forged here. Gettysburg is truly a special place, and it is special because of our people—many of whom will be among your closest friends for the rest of your lives.
Again, I want to thank you for the flexibility and resolve you’ve embodied this spring, and really these past three semesters.
Believe me when I say that I know how difficult it has been. I am immensely proud of each of you. When my time at the College ends someday, yours is a class I will remember with a special fondness and admiration.
Congratulations, and I look forward to your Commencement on May 17 and your degree conferral on May 23. Until then, stay safe and take care.