Inaugural Master’s Commencement Ceremony

July 15, 2023
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Greetings and Opening Address

Let me begin by offering all of you—families, friends, and graduates—a warm welcome to Gettysburg.

By a show of hands: How many of you have been to Gettysburg before? How many of you are visiting for the first time?

We’re excited that you could join us for this celebration. It is an extra special celebration to me as the College’s President, because you are the first class in the program to earn a Gettysburg degree. On a personal level, today carries special resonance as the son of two public school teachers who stands in appreciation for the contributions you make to our society every day.

Four years ago, on the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, I began my tenure as President of Gettysburg College. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this place is unlike anywhere I had experienced before.

Everything you see and everywhere you go is another verse in the rich history of these hallowed grounds. Our College is a perfect example.

On the first day of the Battle, Northern and Southern armies swept through the heart of our campus, and Pennsylvania Hall—the building where my office is located today—served as a field hospital for wounded soldiers on both sides.

The American story literally surrounds you every day at Gettysburg. It is quite inspiring.

Now that I call Gettysburg home, one of my favorite activities is running the Battlefields. If I time it right, I’m often in the final stretch of my run just as the sun begins to rise beyond the horizon, and it silhouettes the monuments against the backdrop of our landscape’s rolling vistas. It is a breathtaking sight to behold, but even more so, it reminds me of the sanctity of where we stand.

All that was sacrificed here. All that was articulated here. All that was earned here in defense of the values we hold dear.

This weekend, I hope that you too will take the opportunity to explore this transcendent setting. Seminary Ridge. Culp’s Hill. Devil’s Den. And, of course, Little Round Top.

The high ground of Little Round Top holds within it many lessons worthy of reflection, but this morning I’d like to focus my comments on Joshua Chamberlain, whose heroics at Little Round Top directly influenced the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg—and with it, the trajectory of the Civil War and the future of our nation.

As many of you may know, Joshua Chamberlain was born in Maine and grew up in a family that deeply valued education and public service.

He attended Bowdoin College, a small private liberal arts school much like ours, where he studied under Calvin Stowe. During gatherings at his professor’s home, he was often captivated by the wisdom and worldview of his professor’s wife, Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist and author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Her novel describes the harsh realities of slavery and helped to galvanize the anti-slavery movement of Northern States in the 1850s.

Like his professor, Chamberlain chose to pursue a career in academia and soon returned to his alma mater to teach rhetoric. But Chamberlain’s life took a dramatic and unexpected turn when the Civil War erupted.

Compelled by the Northern cause, he chose to fight for the preservation of the Union despite not having any former military training. A number of his students even joined him in support. Chamberlain was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment and quickly rose through the ranks to become a colonel.

Of course, Chamberlain is best known for his leadership and courage on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. His regiment was positioned on the left flank of the Union line at Little Round Top.

Understanding the strategic importance of his position, and the Union’s certain defeat if they faltered, Chamberlain and his men bravely defended against an onslaught of Confederate assaults despite being severely outnumbered and low on ammunition.

Wave after wave, they held the line.

As fellow educators, I believe there is a lot we can learn from Chamberlain’s story.

When I look out at you this morning, I see an exceptional group of teachers, scholars, and public servants. And soon, you will return to the 26 states represented in this inaugural class to share the knowledge and enduring skills you’ve gained through this intensive program.

Perhaps now more than any time in our history, we need leaders like you who are dedicated to their profession and willing to hold the line for the institution of education in this country.

History is messy. It is beautiful and painful, tragic and triumphant. That’s because people are layered. This leads us to live multi-layered lives. So, our interpretation of these lives and their corollaries must account for this nuance.

We need educators who understand this on a deep and philosophical level, and who are courageous enough to teach it to the next generation.

The work is of profound importance.

Our democracy is dependent upon an educated and informed citizenry, and a breadth and depth of knowledge in our shared history—our authentic history—is fundamental to ensuring our nation endures.

We must hold the line.

I know that as teachers, it can feel like you too are facing wave after wave of challenges. An increasingly politicized environment in which to do your work. Growing skepticism of expertise and even of the importance of education itself. Too often being asked to do more with fewer resources.

With all of that, always remember that you, like the troops on Little Round Top, are on the high ground.

What you do as an educator matters— and how you do it matters even more. The wisdom and lessons you impart on your students hold with them the promise to change our nation and our world in immeasurable ways.

We see it in Chamberlain himself, 160 years later, his words and his actions still resonate, and they have helped make it possible for us to gather together today.

Each of you made a conscious choice to pursue an advanced degree, moved by the desire to build a brighter tomorrow for your families and your students. So that when you reach that final stretch of your life’s run, you know the sun will rise just beyond the horizon for all those who come after you. I admire you for that.

You are a Gettysburgian for life—and we look forward to partnering with each of you to bring this bright future to fruition.

From all of us here at Gettysburg College, congratulations!

The Charge

It is now my honor to deliver the charge to the Class of 2023.

Throughout our ceremony today, we have celebrated you as our inaugural class—the first to graduate as part of this distinctive master’s program.

You are now a part of Gettysburg’s history.

So, my charge to you is simply this: Continue to be the first.

Be the first in your community to bring about the change Lincoln aspires for us.

Be the first in your district to hold the line when the worth and integrity of education is challenged.

Be the first in your family to show what can be accomplished when you believe.

And be the first in your students’ lives to tell them, “I believe in you.”

Graduates, we believe in you.

At Gettysburg, we promise every student A Consequential Education. I am confident that you will go forth and use your education to lead a life of consequence for the greater good.

At this time, if you are able, I would ask that all graduates please rise.

On behalf of Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,

I want to thank you for joining us for our Commencement ceremony today.

It is now my privilege to present our master’s graduates of the Class of 2023! Congratulations!