Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Garrity will speak at commencement in lieu of the senior class president. The senior class president will deliver a speech in addition to Garrity.
When Erin Garrity, ’18, thinks of Lehigh, some of the first images that come to her mind are the numerous stairs and mountainous hills that define campus.
With that idea, Garrity will address the graduating class of 2018 on May 21 with a speech focused on the theme of “climbing the mountain.”
In the past, the undergraduate commencement speaker has only been the class president, but since class officers were phased out this year, Garrity will be the first undergraduate student commencement speaker chosen through a committee selection process created by Student Senate. The senior class president, Hai Le, ’18, will also speak at the ceremony.
Garrity said the application process was easy and required applicants to first submit a video audition before meeting for an in-person interview, where she gave a speech that she said will more or less be the one she will deliver on graduation day.
Rather than trying to impart wisdom on her fellow graduates, Garrity hopes others will be able to find a part of her story that they can relate to while also reflecting on their own experiences — and enjoying a few jokes.
“I’m 22 years old, and I eat ramen for dinner probably more than twice a week, I really have no life advice to give to anybody,” Garrity said. “So I may as well make people laugh.”
Garrity shared her speech with a few of her housemates, including Theresa Colonna, ’18, one of Garrity’s closest friends since freshman year. Colonna, who said Garrity is one of the friendliest people she knows, believes the members of the graduating class will be able to relate to Garrity’s story.
“(The speech) is just the right amount of funny and serious,” Colonna said. “I feel like she knows everyone, and she’s really involved on campus, so I think everyone will resonate with what she’s saying.”
The professors and staff members Garrity has worked with also recognize her ability to capture the attention and respect of her peers.
Carter Gilbert, the assistant director of student engagement, worked with Garrity when she served as the coordinator of the Greek Emerging Leaders program, an organization she was a part of for three years. Gilbert said Garrity is an authentic leader who exudes confidence, working to make anything she is a part of a better experience for everyone involved.
Gilbert said he thinks Garrity is a good choice for this year’s student commencement speaker because she will be reflective yet funny in a meaningful way, as well as engaging.
“She could talk about crayons and rainbows, and everyone would buy in,” Gilbert said. “Or, she could talk about running a business or engineering, and everyone would buy in. She will find a way to communicate with everyone, and she’ll do it with a couple of laughs and a couple of ‘aw’ moments.”
In addition to her leadership in the Greek community — she held positions on the executive boards of Pi Beta Phi sorority and the Panhellenic Council — Garrity serves as a leader to her peers in her major, chemical engineering.
Vince Grassi, a professor of practice in chemical and biomolecular engineering, had Garrity as a student throughout her senior year for her senior design project. Grassi said Garrity is an “outstanding” student, both technically as an engineer and as a leader in the classroom.
Grassi said Garrity can bring a team together and act as both a participating member and a leader. He said her classmates show her respect, remaining attentive when she makes oral presentations and absorbing the ideas she shares with them.
He believes Garrity will succeed in her career as an engineer.
“I’m hoping that not only does she do well as an individual contributor as an engineer, but that she becomes a group leader or a manager, or maybe an executive, because I think she can inspire and lead an organization,” Grassi said.
Garrity said something she loved about her Lehigh experience was that her peers constantly challenged her to become better every day — something Grassi said he thinks she’ll do for others as she works as an engineer.
As Garrity searched for a post-graduation job, she considered this characteristic as an important facet she wanted at a future company.
Through her internship mentor, Garrity found this constant push to be better at Trane, where she will work as an intelligent services junior account engineer in New York City.
Looking toward commencement, Garrity said she is filled with both excitement about speaking and some sadness about leaving a place she loves.
“It’s definitely sad… but I think Lehigh has prepared me so well to take the next step,” Garrity said. “I think Lehigh prepares all of us well, and by the time we get to senior year, we’re all like, ‘Thank you for preparing me, but I’m ready to go.’”