There was no hiding the excitement. California University of Pennsylvania held its 192nd Commencement on May 7-8, and although graduates and guests wore masks and practiced social distancing, 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.
Addressing the Class of 2021 was James T. Davis ’73, a senior partner at the Davis & Davis law firm of Uniontown, Pa., and chair of Cal U’s Council of Trustees.
To comply with pandemic-related occupancy limits, theUniversity held three ceremonies and allowed each graduate to invite only two guests.
“It’s very emotional,” said a slightly teary-eyed Alex Gerena, of Womelsdorf, Pa. His son, Devon, graduated May 8 with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a concentration in TV and radio.
“He’s our oldest child, and our first to graduate,” mom Laurie Gerena added. “I’m so proud of his accomplishment.”
For Devon, nothing meant more than having his parents watch him walk across the stage in the Convocation Center.
“It would have been super weird to do this without them,” he said. “They’re the reason I was able to accomplish this.”
Graduates made the most of the mask mandate, including master’s degree candidates Emily Nelson, Rachel Skovira, Brandi Schweizer andAmanda Lynch, whose face coverings declared “Social Workers Change the World.”
Alumna Debbie Lambert ’88, ’95 decorated a mask for grand daughter Taia Anderson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“It’s a proud moment for me,” Lambert said, “and I wanted to make sure it was special for her.”
“She’s worked so hard,” added Anderson’s mother, CrystalBritt. “It’s so refreshing after the past year to be able to come together and celebrate.”
President Thorn and speaker Davis commended the graduates for their resilience. It is no small thing to finish your degree amid a global pandemic.
“We gather to celebrate all that you have worked so hard to accomplish,” President 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 led me to getting hired,” she explained.
“But I’m so excited for graduation, because I haven’t seen members of my cohort in person in over a year.”