Cal U held Commencement ceremonies for its students May 7-8 at the Convocation Center.
There was no hiding the excitement.
California University of Pennsylvania held its 192nd Commencement on May 7-8, and though graduates and guests wore masks — in addition to following social distancing guidelines — amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the joy of the weekend was evident.
More than 1,000 doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees were conferred by interim University President Robert Thorn, although not all graduates chose to participate in the ceremonies.
James T. Davis, a senior partner at the Davis & Davis law firm of Uniontown, Pa., chair of Cal U’s Council of Trustees and a 1973 alumnus of the university, was the guest speaker.
“It’s very emotional,” said a slightly teary-eyed Alex Gerena, of Womelsdorf, Pa., whose son, Devon, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a concentration in TV and radio on May 8. “He’s our oldest child, and our first to graduate,” Laurie Gerena added. “I’m so proud of his accomplishment.”
For Devon, nothing meant more than having his parents in attendance.
“It would have been super weird to do this without them,” he said. “They’re the reason I was able to accomplish this today.”
Graduates made the most of the mask mandate, including Emily Nelson, Rachel Skovira, Brandi Schweizer and Amanda Lynch, whose safety coverings at Graduate Commencement declared “Social Workers Change the World.”
Debbie Lambert, a 1988 and 1995 graduate of Cal U with degrees in education and school counseling, decorated a mask for her granddaughter Taia Anderson, an undergraduate social work major.
“It’s a proud moment for me,” she said. “And I wanted to make sure it was special for her.”
“She’s worked so hard,” said Anderson’s mother, Crystal Britt. “It’s so refreshing after the past year to be able to come together and celebrate.”
Interim President Thorn and speaker Davis commended the graduates for their hard work and perseverance, particularly as they finished their degrees amid a global pandemic.
“We gather to celebrate all that you, our graduates, have worked so hard to accomplish,” Thorn said.
“During the past 14 months, in particular, you demonstrated perseverance in the face of unprecedented challenges. You weathered a year that was often unpredictable. You overcame challenges none of us had ever imagined. I commend each of you for staying true to your goals and not faltering when faced with adversity.”
“I want to congratulate each of you on your academic success and remind you that you are leaders — today's leaders as well as tomorrow's leaders,” Davis said.
“You have been blessed with a wonderful education and you are more than capable of moving your communities and this nation forward.”
With degrees in hand, graduates’ futures are already bright.
“I honestly don’t think the online experience was that difficult,” said Jewelein Stevenson, who earned her master’s degree in communication disorders. She has been hired at a school district and nursing facility in her home state of Maryland.
“Since our classes were online, we could do an externship wherever we wanted, and that’s what let me to getting hired. But I’m so excited for graduation, because I haven’t seen members of my cohort in person in over a year.”
Scott Curley, who is an active supervisory federal law enforcement officer in Washington, D.C., graduated with his master’s degree in legal studies with a concentration in homeland security.
“I was very pleased with my overall experience at Cal U,” Curley said. “The support, guidance and professionalism of both Dr. Christina Toras and Professor Brian Kohlhepp made my experience both educational and enjoyable.”