39th Honors Convocation Showcases Scholarly Accomplishment

More than 500 students were honored at Lehigh’s 39th Honors Convocation, which took place Friday (April 13) in Baker Hall of the Zoellner Arts Center. The convocation honors juniors and seniors who have earned a grade point average of 3.6 or higher (out of a possible 4.0).

The ceremony was opened with an invocation from Interim Director of Jewish Student Life Rabbi Steven Nathan, followed by brief comments from President John D. Simon, who introduced Pat Farrell, provost and vice president of academic affairs. In recognizing the students and parents in attendance, Farrell said that, for more than 150 years, Lehigh has been “teaching our students to both learn from others and to teach themselves.”

He said he’s always believed that “learning is about checking assumptions, taking in new information, integrating it with what you already know, then testing your new understanding. The most exciting and engaged students are the ones who can’t wait to try out what they’ve just learned on something new. Sometimes it doesn’t work quite right, and we need to rethink. That, too, is a critical part of learning.” 

Farrell said that the university is recognizing the creative thinkers and problem-solvers that the world needs today: “People who are prepared to see things differently, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.”

These young women and men did not come to Lehigh to blend in, Farrell said, “they came to Lehigh to stand out.”

In keeping with tradition, each of the deans representing the undergraduate colleges introduced a student speaker who was nominated to represent the college.

In introducing journalism major Anne Henry, Donald Hall, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Seigel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, also noted the value of a liberal arts education that “fosters an open pursuit of knowledge for its own sake,” and that the ability to see the world from multiple facets “endows you with the leadership skills needed for success.”

There is a link, he said, “between the education you receive at Lehigh and the achievements so many of you will go on to realize. There is also a common thread running through all of your triumphs. You have discovered that the greatest personal and academic growth often occurs outside the classroom. You have made the most of your education and embraced its potential.”

Henry said she made it to the convocation like all of the students in attendance: by earning a specific GPA.  “I’m not trying to downplay that achievement, she said. “It’s something to be extremely proud of, but the thing about GPAs is that they are a measurement of what we did right. Right answers on a test, right analysis of a reading, whatever we were being graded on, according to our GPAs we did it right. I, like many of you, enjoy how this grading scale functions. As a rigidly type-A person, I like control. I’m logical, like certainty, and always have a plan.”

But life, she’s learned, doesn’t always follow a prescribed plan.

“Speeches like these always end in some stock advice,” she said. “But as I said, I don’t have it all together, and how to navigate the future is just as unclear to me as it is to any of you. Life is a process of figuring it out. Changing, adapting, evolving, and a lot of trial and error. So I hope that you continue to thrive in the world of limitless possibilities. I hope you use this extraordinary (and expensive) education to go out and do incredible things. And in the process of success and building the happily ever after we all aspire to, don’t discredit the innate power of human connection.”

‘Savor This Moment’

Georgette Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics, introduced Madison Uram, who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in finance, with a minor in business information systems and a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry.

Phillips asked the attendees to think back to the start of their Lehigh academic journey.

“Feelings of excitement, nervousness, and a healthy fear of the unknown were probably top-of-mind as you were welcomed to the Lehigh family,” she said.  “Fast forward to today… sitting in a huge concert hall, surrounded by family and friends, and being recognized for your achievements. Each of you has been able to ‘figure it out.’ You have used your time at Lehigh wisely, and are prepared with the core knowledge and background necessary for your next chapter. Through internships and projects that apply theory learned in the classroom to real-world business problems, you are well positioned to differentiate yourself in a competitive job market.  Savor this moment.”

Uram shared her early stumbles at Lehigh, recalling a first semester where she did “alright, but didn’t make the dean’s list,” followed by another semester when she got a D on her first physics exam, and “was pretty much failing the course.”

At that moment, she said, she was forced to set a goal for herself. She signed up for tutoring, asked friends for help and focused on her coursework. She went from nearly failing the course to earning an A.

“And it felt amazing,” she said. “I think this is when I realized I had the potential to succeed academically, and understand different subject matters. I felt like I could do anything, and I became motivated to do everything.”

Uram urged her fellow students to understand what motivates them personally, and to go beyond their comfort zones. “It is our mindset that has driven our success,” she said. “We allow our passion to guide our decision-making, and we are addicted to the euphoric feeling we get from overcoming obstacles. We embrace the reality of the moment, and don’t let thoughts of negativity drown the possibilities before us. I believe the true driving force behind this mentality that we all have is just motivation. And to bring it all together, we are surrounded by people who have been there to help us reach our full potential.”

Beyond ‘Pocket Protector’ Engineers

After congratulating the students who were being honored at the event, John Coulter, associate dean for research in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, spoke about the legacy of extraordinary thinkers and well-rounded individuals who characterize the engineering college.

“Lehigh does not produce ‘pocket-protector’ engineers—not that there’s anything wrong with pocket protectors,” he said. “Lehigh is a place where leaders are cultivated through hands-on learning. That leadership is evident every day, all over campus. There are many examples: Close to half of the students in Lehigh’s instrumental and choral music programs are engineers, and more than 60 percent of the famed Marching 97 band study engineering. Approximately 25 percent of Lehigh’s varsity athletes come from engineering as well.”

Lehigh, he said, is known to be a university that challenges its students to excel. By making it to this event, “You have done just that: excelled in your academic pursuits... and hopefully had some fun in the process. We hope that it is this combination of hard work and a passion for excellence that you will take away from Lehigh. To our seniors, I hope you enjoy your remaining weeks at Lehigh, and I wish you the very best in all the adventures that follow.”

Coulter introduced David Morency, a student in the Integrated Business and Engineering honors program who carries a dual major in finance and industrial systems and engineering, along with a minor in Chinese.

Morency said he was touched by the dedication of his fellow students to the university. “You started clubs that helped us discover our passions,” he said. “You coached each other through extremely difficult classes, job interviews and personal challenges. In various ways, you built the community around us that we all cherish. Only a lucky few have the opportunity to learn what you have learned and to know the exceptional people that you now know. Nobody is like you and can carry the perspective, knowledge, and personality that each of you brings to this world. That is why we honor you.”

It is, he said, “a privilege to attend Lehigh University. And it is a privilege to have the support, drive, and curiosity that allows us to excel in this challenging environment. Lehigh has allowed all of us to pull ourselves up and reach for new opportunities.”

As each student accepts their awards, soon be followed by their diplomas, Morency urged his fellow students to “appreciate our good fortune and celebrate the promise we are making to, in the words of Stephen Hawking, ‘seek the greatest value of our action.’

“Today, he concluded, “we look to the not-so-distant future and wholeheartedly welcome the responsibility and great expectations that we continue to earn.”

Nathan also closed the ceremony by delivering the benediction. Linda Lowe-Krentz, professor of biological sciences, served as the University Marshal.

Photos by Christa Neu

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