May 17, 2021
President Robert W. Iuliano
Greetings and Opening Comments
Good morning, and welcome to the 186th Commencement exercises of Gettysburg College. And a special welcome to our seniors, the Class of 2021!
Today, families, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, distinguished guests, and friends gather together—here on our campus and virtually around the world—to celebrate you, our seniors, and to reflect on all that you’ve achieved during your time at the College.
I know I speak for many of us in attendance this morning, when I say how deeply moved I was to watch your class process back through Pennsylvania Hall, in your caps and gowns, just a few moments ago. This is a tradition that speaks powerfully to your determination as Gettysburg College students and your readiness for all that awaits. And I can think of no class that is more fully prepared to address the challenges of our time than this remarkable group of seniors.
In fact, I think it’s telling that in a year marked by the truly extraordinary, that it’s often the simplest of acts—the personal—that can help give our education its meaning.
And this brings to mind a phrase coined by the renowned writer Joan Didion, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, who spoke of “the ordinary instant.” Although she did so in the context of a more somber occasion, the point she was making is transcendent. She observed that a moment that might seem entirely ordinary—offering no hint for what it might foretell—may end up altering your life, your outlook on the world, your aspirations, your avocations.
Class of 2021, surrounded by your friends and family today, as we kickoff of our Commencement ceremonies here in Musselman Stadium, I invite you to take this occasion to think back on all of the ordinary instances that helped shape your Gettysburg story.
It could have been that most routine of acts—checking your mailbox one spring day back in 2017. But on this day, you were greeted to find a big orange envelope whose joyous words changed everything: “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to Gettysburg College.”
It could have been an ordinary moment that occurred entirely outside of your sight. The decision, on a warm summer afternoon by someone in College Life to place a classmate who became your friend—and who will remain your best friend throughout your entire life—in the room next to yours in Huber during your first year.
It could have been that moment you signed up for a course—yes, maybe even begrudgingly to fulfill a distribution requirement—but that ordinary decision in an ordinary moment turned out to be anything but ordinary. The subject, brought to life by an inspiring member of the faculty, spoke to you in ways you previously thought unimaginable. It changed your decision about a major, and it is now something you will continue to pursue in graduate school or through your career.
It could have been listening to Professor Bloomquist recite the Gettysburg Address at your First-Year Walk, and how quite unexpectedly this event inspired you to make your own indelible mark on this campus.
Or, staying late after practice to work on your passing with a teammate, only to deliver that tie-breaking assist in the Women’s Lacrosse National Title game.
Or, walking into Servo for that first time, seeing the cookies laid out, and thinking this is just another dessert offering, just another cookie. But learning it was anything but ordinary, and even considering adding a Religious Studies minor after tasting the divine.
Or, deciding to volunteer at the Painted Turtle Farm and working alongside a local community member whose immigration status differs from your own, and learning that the similarities between you far outnumber the differences.
Or, having a member of this College say they believe in you, and knowing in your heart that it’s true.
Perhaps the most ordinary instance happened half a world away, when in a quiet, unnoticed moment a virus jumped from animal to human and changed the course of world history and your history.
It’s receiving the difficult news that, as result of that moment, your experience here would be different than any other class before yours, and working every day to get the very most out of your liberal arts and sciences education.
It’s getting that call from your parent when you were struggling, a call that gave you the strength to keep pressing forward.
It’s facing adversity like you’d never shouldered before, and committing to never backing down and never giving up.
It’s learning about yourself, and deciding who you want to become.
Indeed, it’s rising today with a true sense of accomplishment, as a proud member of the Class of 2021, and going out into the world and becoming that person.
Seniors, as you reflect on your time at Gettysburg, remember that most of our lives consist of these ordinary and extraordinary moments. So often, these moments may initially appear as nothing more than a blur in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. Yet, if we take a step back and see the bigger picture, we discover that—taken together—they are like thousands of pixels giving clarity to our lives.
There will also be those moments that have the potential to be pivotal, to be transformative, to be extraordinary, if you are open to the opportunities they present. It’s these instances that make the fullness of life truly possible.
Your education has prepared you to make the most out of both the ordinary and extraordinary moments ahead. Your faculty, your family, your friends have prepared you for this. Class of 2021, you are ready.
As graduates of this College, you will carry with you a collection of experiences that are instrumental to the leader to you will become, and invaluable to the change you will bring about in the years ahead.
You’ve made history here—and I know you will do the same out in the world.
Enjoy this special day. The pomp and circumstance, the speeches, the celebration. You certainly deserve every moment of it.
Congratulations, Class of 2021. We are so proud of you!
The Charge to the Class of 2021
It’s now my honor to deliver the charge to the Class of 2021.
I began my comments today by acknowledging your many achievements during your four years as Gettysburg students—these ordinary instances that set our life’s direction and reveal our greater purpose out in the world.
As you step back from the countless moments you’ve created here, to see with clarity the fuller picture before you, it is now—as Michael [Brown] was saying—your time to act.
Together, we’ve vividly witnessed over these past 14 months—indeed, these past four years—one of the most challenging periods in our lifetime.
Graduates, our world needs you.
We need your talents. We need your creativity. We need your compassion. We need your engagement.
With your graduation from Gettysburg College, I know you are ready to shoulder the enormous responsibilities entrusted to you—to make a difference in your communities and in your workplaces, and to forge new and wider paths for all people.
So, my charge to you today is simply this: Rise.
Rise to the occasion of this defining moment.
Rise to capture the spirit of this time and this place.
Rise to the challenges confronting our country and our planet.
Rise in the cause of justice for those who have been silenced and pushed aside for far too long.
Rise to be the leaders and the voices of change that we know you can be.
Class of 2021, you are far from ordinary.
Now it is your turn to pursue the great and unfinished work. To make a better world. To be a source of extraordinary light in these most extraordinary times.
May you take all that you’ve learned here to lead a life of consequence in service of others and the greater good.
We believe in you.
We wish you the very best in all of your adventures ahead. Again, congratulations Class of 2021!