Graduating seniors sit in Goodman Stadium in a socially distanced graduation ceremony May 22, 2021. Many high school and college graduations were altered or canceled due to COVID restrictions. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Senior class gets first in-person graduation


For graduating seniors, commencement weekend is an important milestone in their educational journey. For the class of 2024, it’s even more special.

Because of COVID restrictions in 2020, this year’s undergraduate commencement weekend will be the first time many seniors walk in a traditional graduation ceremony.

The Student Senate is responsible for selecting the graduate and undergraduate commencement speakers. The graduating Senate president is usually responsible for choosing, but because the current president, Kevin Dotel, is a junior, the responsibility was given to senior senators. 

A committee led by Emily Wegrzyn, ‘24, vice president of Internal Affairs, was responsible for the choice this year.

She said she was excited to lead the selection process and impact her class’s graduation experience. 

“It’s a big responsibility and it’s something that I personally felt really passionate about,” Wegrzyn said. “Knowing the impact that the choice of this one person is going to have on thousands of people on that day was something I was really interested in getting involved in.”

She said the Senate sent out a call for applications, requesting potential speakers submit a copy of their speech and a video of them giving the address. 

The selection process was split into three stages. 

Wegrzyn and five senators on the committee read the transcripts of each speech. After selecting the strongest ones for further consideration, they watched the videos of the speakers. 

They then invited the final contenders to speak with them in person. 

Wegrzyn said it was important for her to find a speaker who could balance inspiring graduates and appealing to friends and family in the audience. 

She said they also needed to accurately represent the special circumstances of this year’s graduates. 

“This is the first big graduation ceremony a lot of us are getting,” Wegrzyn said. “This speech not only needed to almost make up for that lack of experience — this is a big deal and we want to make sure that we’re representing that by this speech — but also talk about some of those experiences that connect us as a graduating class.”

Wegrzyn said in 2020, her high school had an outdoor ceremony but the whole class was not present at the same time. She said, given the circumstances, it was better than nothing, but she was disappointed she didn’t get a normal graduation where everyone could celebrate together. 

She said the committee felt it was important to find someone who would speak to their shared experience as 2020 high school seniors. 

“There’s that collective factor that’s united us as a class,” Wegrzyn said. “There’s this drive for anybody who’s going to represent this class, or is aiding in the process of choosing someone to represent this class, to draw upon that shared experience and make up for something that a lot of us lost in our high school graduation.”

Charles Tobin, ‘24, said his high school had an augmented graduation where each student walked the stage with only their family in attendance. He said there was also a drive-in graduation where families stayed in their cars as a speaker addressed the graduates. 

“It was a very surreal experience,” Tobin said. “Especially since I’ve been to the graduations my school had before since I was in the band and I would be playing at graduation. I knew what they were supposed to look like and had to be able to compare  and contrast them.”

Although his school’s graduation wasn’t what he envisioned, Tobin said the ceremony was less important to him because he didn’t choose the high school he attended. Now that he goes to Lehigh, he said he’s much more excited to walk. 

“Being able to walk and celebrate, I made this decision myself and I am now going to reap the benefits of that decision, it’s really rewarding,” Tobin said. 

Ashlar Dotson, ‘24, went to a small high school that had an in-person, socially distanced graduation on the soccer field. 

“This graduation is more than just a graduation from college, but it’s also really a graduation for all of the schooling that I did up until this point,” Dotson said.  “High school included, it’s going to be the first time I get to experience that traditional graduation experience and the mingling and the various celebrations after graduation.”

He said he was disappointed when his graduation plans drastically changed as he saw it as an important milestone in his life. 

He said this has heightened the importance of this year’s ceremony for him. 

“This upcoming graduation feels like it’s the most important moment of my life up until now,” Dotson said. 

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