By Phoebe Doscher, News Editor
This weekend’s commencement exercises celebrated the class of 2019’s journey at Gettysburg College at the completion of their undergraduate degrees. As students take their first steps as college graduates, the bell toll of Glatfelter Hall and the band’s music signify the beginning of the next chapter of their lives where students are equipped with a Gettysburg education and memories that will last a lifetime.
Although the forecast anticipated rain during the almost three-hour ceremony, the sun miraculously emerged 15 minutes before the start and shone throughout, paralleling the bright futures of the imminent Gettysburg graduates.
In reverse manner from their procession during Opening Convocation of their first year, students walked through Pennsylvania Hall from the south side to the north side to mark the full-circle conclusion of their college experience.
The 184th commencement began at 11 a.m. on May 19 with faculty, staff, students, and families gathered on the Beacham Portico on the north side of Pennsylvania Hall.
After Reverend Dr. Kristen Largen’s Invocation, President Janet Morgan Riggs shared her opening remarks and expressed pride in the accomplishments of the graduating class. Similar to the graduates, Riggs said she felt “mixed emotions” as her tenure at Gettysburg also comes to a close, “This day … brings with it some real sadness. As I said at Baccalaureate yesterday, of all the things I will miss, it is the people I will miss most. I suspect it’s the same for many of you.”
Riggs recognized and led the students in thanking the faculty, staff, members of the Board of Trustees, and families of the class of 2019 as beacons of support throughout the graduates’ time at Gettysburg.
She also made special mention to the seven members of the graduating class that were not able to attend the ceremony due to their NCAA game for women’s lacrosse on Clark Field at 2:30 p.m.
Provost Chris Zappe next took the podium to present the Award for Distinguished Teaching, awarded to Dr. Scott Hancock, Chair of the History Department and Associate Professor of History. Hancock will be presented the highest honor awarded to a member of the faculty at the next academic year’s first faculty meeting when he returns from his time abroad.
Riggs returned to the podium to introduce the senior class student speaker Josh Wagner ’19. A chemistry and mathematics major, Wagner calculated that winning the Powerball lottery consecutively 50 times was more likely than gathering each unique individual of the class of 2019.
He praised the extraordinary accomplishments of the graduating class, “We should be proud of all our accomplishments. Each course passed, award won, job offered, graduate admission, and team victory is a testament to the collective determination of the class of 2019. As the most diverse graduating class in the history of the college, we faced a variety of unique challenges. Each of us, at one point over the last four years, considered leaving, giving up, going home. Yet we continued, chipping away at the unfinished work before us.”
Next, co-chairs of the Senior Class Gift Committee, Caroline Kavanagh ’19 and Katherine Kennedy ’19, announced the $7,611 raised through the Senior Class Gift Campaign for the Orange and Blue Club and the Gettysburg Fund. The contributions “will go to support scholarships, academic departments, athletic teams, and various other programs on campus,” Kavanagh said.
Chair of the Board of Trustees at the College, David Brennan, was next to announce the first two honorary degrees.
The Doctor for Humane Letters was awarded to LeVar Burton and Jane E. Rice received the degree of Doctor of Public Service.
Following the first two of three honorary degrees, keynote speaker Jerry Spinelli ’63 was presented with the Gettysburg College Medal, “given in recognition of a person whose life and work exemplify the power of the liberal arts and sciences to foster critical thinking, effective communication, dedication to service, an inclusive vision of the world and its people,” Provost Zappe said.
Spinelli, an author, addressed the class with an inspiring speech about the importance of facing failure in order to improve. He advised the class, “Take this down, your last note at Gettysburg: The more I lose the better I get.”
The final honorary degree, Doctor of Social Science, was presented to President Riggs. Brennan acknowledged Riggs’s “excellence in teaching and administration … leadership in the field of higher education, … loyalty to [her] alma mater, and, most importantly, … unfailing commitment to what continues to be the cornerstone of a Gettysburg education–the inspirational relationships between students and mentors.”
Provost Zappe continued with the awarding of the Bachelor’s degrees. Associate Provost Kristin Stuempfle took roll of all the graduates and recognized salutatorian Leah Gulyas ’19 and valedictorian Jason Bailey Heath ’19 last.
Riggs concluded the ceremony with the traditional movement of the graduation cap tassels from the right to the left side.
The alma mater was sung by Robby Napoli ’19, accompanied by the Commencement Brass Ensemble.
Largen finished the ceremony with the Benediction, leaving the graduates with final thoughts from poet Mary Oliver: “As you go out into the world, remember always what the great thinkers you met and have grown to love here at Gettysburg College have taught you: ‘to observe with passion, to think with patience, and to live always caringly.’”