Class of 2024 proves ‘worthy of this moment’ during Gettysburg College’s 189th Commencement

When they arrived on campus in the fall of 2020, each member of the Class of 2024 possessed unique and personalized dreams of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do with their lives as future graduates of Gettysburg College.

With the support of friends, faculty, and staff, those individuals embraced every opportunity presented to them through the Gettsburg Approach, and graduated together in front of the steps of Pennsylvania Hall as part of Gettysburg’s 189th Commencement on Saturday, May 18. Empowered with a depth and breadth of knowledge and a set of enduring skills, they set forth from Gettysburg to pursue lives of consequence and meaning.

"I hope you likewise feel a real sense of pride in what you’ve accomplished,” said President Bob Iuliano. “We ask a lot of our students. You have not only met but surpassed our highest expectations. And in doing so, you are leaving behind an indelible set of footprints on this campus for generations to follow. On behalf of our entire Gettysburg College community, I want to thank you for how you have shaped the College over these past four years."

The Class of 2024
The Class of 2024 stands before the looming north facade of Penn Hall during Commencement (Photo by Hang Lian).

Prior to arriving at Gettysburg, many members of the Class of 2024 did not have high school graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In front of their families and friends, 554 college graduates were honored with all the pomp and circumstance afforded by Gettysburg College. Despite some early rain showers, the weather assumed a tranquil disposition following the procession of the graduates through Penn Hall, allowing for an uninterrupted ceremony under cloudy skies.

Even if rain had danced on their black caps, it would have done little to dampen the spirit of resiliency and determination shown by the Class of 2024 over the last four years. Iuliano compared their journey to that of Cameron Booser, a professional baseball player who overcame his own trials to appear in the major leagues at age 31, and Commencement speaker Debra Martin Chase, who endured through trying times and feelings of self-doubt to become a successful film, TV, and stage producer. In both cases, the pursuit of their dreams pushed back, but they persevered.

"Class of 2024, today, you will walk across this stage and out into the world as Gettysburg College graduates,” Iuliano stated. “The challenges confronting our nation are immense. Indeed, Lincoln’s dream of a better world continues to elude us. Our work remains unfinished. May you choose to dedicate yourself to the great task remaining before us. May you dare to endure, to sacrifice, to overcome, to live in service to something far greater than yourself. I know you will. You are ready."

President Luliano greets graduates
President Iuliano and other members of the platform party greet the graduates as they process through Penn Hall (Photo by Zach Aumen).

With majors and minors ranging from Africana studies to women, gender, and sexuality studies, the Class of 2024 represented the holistic nature of a liberal arts education. Building on that strong curricular foundation that was guided by Gettysburg’s first-class faculty were experiential learning opportunities across the globe, providing the new graduates with enduring skills—adaptability, communication, creativity, intercultural fluency, leadership, problem solving, teamwork—for a lifetime of career advancement and personal success.

"A liberal arts education means that we will leave this place as some of the most well-rounded learners in the country,” said student speaker Regan Rightmire ’24. “To me, a liberal arts education means that, while we all started this chapter as individuals, we now leave this experience as a beautiful mosaic—a conglomerate of the people we have met, the experiences we have endured, and the knowledge we have gathered, in a matter of four short years.” 

Rightmire, a business, organizations, and management major and data science minor, continued, "My mosaic might not look like yours, and yours doesn’t look like his, and his doesn’t look like theirs. That is the beauty of who we have become here at Gettysburg. We will take this unique mosaic of self along with us onto our next journey."

A pair of graduates greeting each other
A pair of graduates share in the joy of graduation (Photo by Zach Aumen).

This year’s Commencement witnessed the awarding of two honorary degrees to individuals who have impacted society in a positive way through their respective endeavors. Receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters was Andrew Delbanco, the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and president of the Teagle Foundation. An accomplished author and educator, Delbanco was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2012 and delivered the Jefferson Lecture, the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities, in 2022.

“You must believe in yourself—and you must not only believe that you are capable of achieving whatever you want to do, but that you are worthy.”
– Debra Martin Chase to the Class of 2024

Before addressing the crowd with her keynote speech, Chase was honored with a Doctor of Letters. A three decade-long career in entertainment didn’t not come without its share of hardships for Chase, who began her postgraduate life as a lawyer. With an education in the liberal arts and sciences at Mount Holyoke College and a belief in what she was capable of achieving, Chase had the footing she needed to make the leap into show business, a dream she had carried since her earliest childhood.

"You must believe in yourself—and you must not only believe that you are capable of achieving whatever you want to do, but that you are worthy,” Chase said. “Know that in most cases the difference between where you are and where you want to be is only the degree to which you are honest with yourself and what you're willing to do to get there. I truly believe that believing in yourself is the foundation for success."

Using her personal experiences as a backdrop, Chase shared five pieces of advice with the graduates:

  1. “You must believe in yourself.”
  2. “Bet on yourself.”
  3. “Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.”
  4. “Surround yourself with people who support you.”
  5. “When the door closes, a window will open.”
Debra Martin Chase shares details of her own consequential journey
Debra Martin Chase shares details of her own consequential journey with the Class of 2024 (Photo by Zach Aumen).

With these lessons, Chase has been able to carve out her own consequential life, creating inspiring stories about the human spirit. She was the first Black female producer to have a producing deal with a major movie studio, and her films, including “The Princess Diaries” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” have grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office.

“The word consequential literally means of importance, of significance, something that matters,” Chase noted. “I, like this College, believe that each of us is put on this earth to do something that matters, something that in some way makes the world a better place. However, that meaningful contribution can be made in an infinite variety of ways—from being a parent, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a nurse, or even a film, TV, and stage producer.

"Finding the answer that is uniquely yours will not be easy,” she continued. “It will undoubtedly be a journey filled with ups and downs and twists and turns, and I guarantee some failure. But if you do the work and stay the course, in finding your purpose, you will also find personal happiness and fulfillment."

Following Chase’s stirring remarks, Provost Jamila Bookwala announced each of the newest graduates by name as they began their procession across the stage to receive their bachelor’s degrees in the arts, science, music, and music education. Vice president of College Life Anne Ehrlich also called special attention to the graduates involved in the Blue Mountain Battalion Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)—Jack Comegno ’24, Jake Gandolfo ’24, and Joseph Swiston ’24—who would be commissioned as United States Army Officers later in the day.

Rounding out the conferring of degrees were this year’s salutatorian and valedictorian—East Asian studies and political science double major Avery O’Neill ’24 of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, and physics major Emma Ortiz ’24 of Long Valley, New Jersey.

International students gather around Director of International Student Services Brad Lancaster
International students gather around Director of International Student Services Brad Lancaster following the ceremony (Photo by Hang Lian).
Jack Comegno ’24 embraces his mother, Marsha (Hoffman) Comegno ’94
Jack Comegno ’24 embraces his mother, Marsha (Hoffman) Comegno ’94, after receiving his degree (Photo by Zach Aumen).

After being welcomed as the newest additions to Gettysburg’s expansive network of alumni by Al Wilkins ’06, president of the Alumni Board of Directors, the Class of 2024 joined together once again to sing the alma mater led by music major Adela Holahan ’24.

Following the ceremony, the graduates and their families attended nearby departmental receptions, celebrating with their friends and faculty mentors and bestowing Stoles of Gratitude on those people who played a significant role in their time at Gettysburg. But before they recessed from the Penn Hall lawn, Iuliano had one more note of encouragement for the Class of 2024:

“In the spirit of Debra Martin Chase’s inspiring words today, my charge to you is simply this: be brave and know that you are worthy,” Iuliano said. “You are worthy of this moment—every cheer and tear from those who love you. You are worthy of your education—and the profound responsibility now entrusted to you to use it wisely and compassionately. You are worthy of being counted on—to rise to the great and unfinished work of our time. And lastly, you are worthy of leading a consequential life—in service of a world that needs you.

“We know you will. Class of 2024, we believe in you.”

Read President Iuliano’s full remarks.

Photo Gallery from Commencement Weekend

Commencement 2024: Saturday

By Corey Jewart
Photos by Hang Lian and Zach Aumen
Posted: 05/23/24

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