Baccalaureate Ceremony – May 16, 2021

May 16, 2021
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Members of the Class of 2021, families, friends, and colleagues—welcome.

It has special meaning for us to gather together, even in this virtual setting, for an important and time-honored tradition here at Gettysburg College: our annual Baccalaureate ceremony.

As I was reflecting upon this defining milestone in your life, in the context of a year unlike any of us has seen in our lifetime, I was reminded of a powerful scene at President Biden’s Inauguration earlier this year.

Seated among former Presidents and their partners, Senate and House Leaders, and world-class performers was a young woman—not much older than you—who was called to the microphone.

She had devoted her life to this moment. All of her studies. All of her drafts and redrafts. Years of practice, honing her craft.

Poised and determined, she looked out upon the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and a sea of cameras streaming to millions of people around the country, indeed the world, and she delivered a message of hope.

One that encourages us, amid our many shortcomings as a people and as a nation, to never stop reaching to realize our promise. To be, as she says, the “light in this never-ending shade.”

I am speaking of America’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, and her moving five-minute poem “The Hill We Climb.”

If you haven’t yet seen Ms. Gorman’s evocative performance, I’d encourage you to watch the video. If you have seen it, watch it again, but this time direct your attention to a subtle moment right before her recital.

As she collects herself, she breathes in and breathes out, readying herself for what was to come. It may seem like the most pedestrian of acts, but it is one that in many respects symbolizes the transition you are now making.

Ms. Gorman’s breath before her delivery reflects what we call a liminal state. It’s the threshold between the person Ms. Gorman was before she stepped up to that microphone, and the person she would ultimately become after she transfixed the nation with her poem, and shared her talents and her voice with the world.

You can think of liminality as the space between leaping from one side of a riverbank to landing on the other side.

As you prepare to enter graduate school or your first post-collegiate job, I’m sure many of you are feeling this sense of suspension and transition, caught between two worlds: the present, which is so deeply imbued with four years of memories and friendships; and the future, with its promise, challenge, excitement, uncertainty, and, yes, sense of unknown.

Over the last four years, you’ve gathered a great running start, through your hard work in and out of the classroom and the grit you’ve refined during this pandemic. In many respects, you’re now mid-jump, heading toward that other riverbank.

I know that at times you may feel uncertain about whether you will land safely and gracefully on the other side. You may feel a twinge—maybe more—of self-doubt, of not being ready, of somehow not being quite good enough.

Of this I am confident: you will land securely on the side.

Breathe in, breathe out, ready yourself for the world that awaits because you have everything it takes to find a life and career of meaning, passion, and contribution. You’ve proven it in the classroom, on the stages, in jobs, and in the thousands of informal interactions that have marked your time in college.

We believe in you, in the consequential education you earned here, and in all that you will do in the years ahead.

Like Amanda Gorman, it’s now your turn to rise to the microphone. Speak true to yourself and speak boldly. Share your talents and raise your voice in a message of hope and determination.

In short, you have everything it takes to help create the world you want it to be.

Class of 2021, we’re so excited for what the future holds for you—and we look forward to celebrating with you in person at your Commencement ceremony. On behalf of all of us here at Gettysburg College, congratulations!