Sarah Stankus speaks at Lehigh University Honors Convocation

40th Honors Convocation Celebrates Academic Accomplishments

More than 500 students from Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges recognized for high academic achievement.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

The rain outside did not deter the celebration inside as faculty and administrators processed into Baker Hall to the sounds of Mainstreet Brass, kicking off Lehigh’s annual Honors Convocation. The ceremony, which honors juniors and seniors who have earned a grade point average of 3.6 or higher out of a possible 4.0, took place on Friday, April 5 and recognized more than 500 students for high academic achievement.

The ceremony opened with an invocation from University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen, followed by brief comments from Pat Farrell, provost and vice president of academic affairs, who acknowledged the students’ hard work and accomplishments, and encouraged them to also take a moment to stop and reflect.

“What I want to remind you of is this: It's okay, every now and then, to ease off on the gas pedal. Because if you let yourself become addicted to busy, you'll neglect some very important parts of yourself. I’m not advocating laziness—just some reflection and an occasional internal check-in on whether your drive for success aligns with the difference you hope to be making in the world around you,” he said.

Lehigh student Sarah Stankus

Sarah Stankus ’19

Reflecting on a Four-Year Journey

As is tradition, the Honors Convocation featured student speakers nominated to represent each of Lehigh’s three undergraduate colleges.

In his introduction of student speaker Sarah Stankus ’19, Cameron Wesson, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, noted the value of a liberal arts education in a changing world.  

“You all are certainly aware that much is changing around us, as we face tremendous environmental, economic, and social tests and trials,” Wesson said. “A liberal arts and sciences education at Lehigh helps our students develop a sense of social awareness and responsibility, an appreciation of culture and complexity, as well as transferable skills such as communication, analysis and problem-solving, and the ability to apply that knowledge and their talents in the real world. You are here because you have made the most of your college experience and are following an academic path that both excites and interests you.”  

Stankus, an Eckardt Scholar pursuing both a Bachelor of Science in Earth and Environmental Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in English, invited her fellow students to reflect on how they got to where they are today.

“Our goals have changed,” she said. “Our perspectives of the world have widened and shifted. We have new levels of knowledge and understanding. We have pinpointed what our interests are and have taken hold of them, poring over those subjects and concepts for hours at the libraries and in our dorms. We’re older, we’re wiser, we’re tireder, maybe even a little bit more broken down, but we’re stronger. We’re like steel that has been forged in the fires of four o’clock exams and calendars full of extracurricular activities.”

Stankus reminded students to remember who they are at this moment—and that they’re more than just their academic achievements.

“We’ve done so much work to get here, to maintain the right GPA to get into this room, but that’s not all we have done,” she said. “We’ve met new people and tried new things. We’ve unlocked desires and dreams that maybe we didn’t even know we had. Right now we are all capable of achieving amazing things. Lehigh has given us the tools to expand our knowledge, and we’ve taken hold of them and used them. Right here, right now, we are full of dreams and hopes, some that are more grounded in the reality of the ‘adult world,’ some still more lofty and verging on the brink of the improbable and the impossible. Don’t let this go when you graduate. New lessons and experiences will be a part of the post-college life just as much as they are the college life, if you are open to them.”

Stankus shared about the pressure she put upon herself during her first year at Lehigh, a “compulsive drive to spend every minute outside of [extracurricular] activities studying and reading my textbooks.” She spent that first year trying to copy others without focusing on what she wanted, she said.

“My main goal in life was, and still is, to help people, and at the end of freshman year I finally realized that there is more than one way to accomplish this and that I didn’t strictly have to follow just what my immediate circle of friends was doing. Any area of study you choose, so long as it has been chosen because you care about it, can be used for the benefit of others,” she said. “... The main things that got me through freshman year and that have gotten me through the rest of college are the communities I am a part of. At the end of the day, we can get all the right answers we want, but without love for others and love from others, it doesn’t matter.

“If your goal is to help people, you have to know people. College hasn’t been just about the grades we’ve gotten. It’s late-night hangouts and walking through the South Side and sitting at the Lookout Point above Dravo with our friends. Life is about solving problems, but it’s also about the connections we form with others. That’s what Lehigh has taught me, and I hope that’s what it’s taught all of you.”

Life is about solving problems, but it’s also about the connections we form with others. That’s what Lehigh has taught me, and I hope that’s what it’s taught all of you.

Sarah Stankus ’19

Lehigh Student Ryan Malloy

Ryan Malloy ’19

‘A Will to Succeed’

Georgette Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics, congratulated the students and noted that she loves this time of the year, when Lehigh is both accepting new students and saying goodbye to its seniors. She asked the students to think back to where they were four years ago, having just been accepted to Lehigh.

Upon arriving at Lehigh, Phillips said, “you were faced with a demanding set of academic challenges that somehow you alone had to manage outside of the comfort of your family. You also had some newfound freedom and I hope that you used that judiciously—you’re all sitting here so I bet you did. ... Savor this moment. Just wallow in it. Be happy. This is a great and wonderful period in your life. You’re sitting in this beautiful concert hall, surrounded by family and friends, recognized for your academic achievements … You’ve used your Lehigh time very wisely, and now you’re prepared with the knowledge to go out and conquer the world. You’ve had your internships, your projects, your countless late-night study sessions. Now it’s your chance to differentiate yourself, to go out and for heaven's sakes, make us proud.”

Phillips then introduced Ryan Malloy ’19, who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in finance.

Malloy, a varsity baseball player, reflected upon the unique experiences crafted by each Lehigh student, and the one thing the students in Baker Hall all shared in common: “a will to succeed.”

“Critics of the current education system argue that a GPA is just a number, and that it is not an accurate gauge of a student’s accomplishments,” said Malloy. “I could not disagree more. In my opinion, each GPA has a story to tell. Our GPAs account for the endless hours we spent in FML and Lindy until the early hours of the morning. They also shed light on the extensive network we have created, with both professors, our fellow classmates and our best friends. They also speak of times we pushed outside of our comfort zones and sought out new, sometimes unnerving opportunities.

“For those who are here being honored today, our GPA serves as a memento; one that signifies that we made the most of our college experience. We are truly able to say that we gave it our all, and in baseball terms, that ‘we left it all out on the field.’ No one can ever take that away from us.”

Malloy told his peers that they have the choice of how to take on the challenges that life beyond Lehigh holds, and that it would be easy to be complacent now that they’ve earned a Lehigh degree. “However,” he said, “I believe we can be much, much more.

“Throughout its 40-year history, Lehigh’s Honors Convocations have produced countless students who have impacted the world in many profound ways. Many of them sat in these exact chairs, and listened to speeches similar to the one I am giving right now. Thus, it is now our turn to carry the torch, and continue Lehigh’s tradition of excellence. We are all privileged to have gone to this university, so it is only right to use what we learned to the absolute best of our ability. Armed with extensive knowledge and a robust Lehigh network, nothing can stop us.”

Armed with extensive knowledge and a robust Lehigh network, nothing can stop us.

Ryan Malloy ’19

Ryan Malloy speaks at Lehigh Honors Covocation

Ryan Malloy ’19 speaks at the 2019 Honors Convocation

Lehigh University student Maryam Athar Khan

Maryam Athar Khan ’19

The Qualities that Define a Lehigh Student

Stephen DeWeerth, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering, reflected upon how he was writing a message just the day before to the newly accepted students of the Class of 2023, telling them how they’d be challenged if they came to Lehigh. “And then to look out in this room and see those students who have gone through the gauntlet and made it through and been challenged, followed their passions—it was a wonderful bookend over two days,” he said. “This is truly an honor to be here with all of you.”   

Listing the accomplishments of esteemed Lehigh engineering alumni who have left their marks on the world, DeWeerth noted that “in the Rossin College we’re very proud of all of these accomplishments from the past and all of the amazing accomplishments that our soon-to-be alumni here will contribute in their careers. … Lehigh is known to be a university that challenges its students to excel. By making it to the Honors Convocation, 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 and take on to your future careers.”

Grades do not define me as an individual. Rather, the actions I take in the face of hardship, the perseverance I possess, these are the qualities that define me as a Lehigh student.

Maryam Athar Khan ’19

DeWeerth introduced Maryam Athar Khan ’19, who is earning a Bachelor of Science in bioengineering.

Khan described one of her biggest challenges at Lehigh as when she enrolled in a 400-level computer science course that was cross-listed with her major. She realized quickly, she said, “that it was not going to be as simple as I thought.”

One of only two girls, two undergraduates and the only junior in the class—which was comprised primarily of male doctoral students—Khan said she was clearly the “odd one out.” She struggled with her lack of prior experience and the speed at which the material was taught, she explained.

“I spent the first few weeks pondering about whether or not to drop the course, to try again later,” Kahn said. “However, I realized that my reasons were all the wrong ones. I was worried about not getting an A, about how it would impact my GPA. In the midst of all that worrying, I had forgotten why I was enrolled in the class in the first place. I was here to learn. I was here to acquire new skills that would help me be the engineer that I wanted to be. And I was here to learn about new technologies that would help me in delivering better treatment and care to healthcare patients across the globe.”

Khan explained that she “had to reconcile with the fact that grades do not define me as an individual. Rather, the actions I take in the face of hardship, the perseverance I possess, these are the qualities that define me as a Lehigh student. And it is the lessons we learn when faced with adversity, and not necessarily the equations that we memorize sitting in class, that will take us far in life.”

Khan noted how Lehigh encourages students to excel both in and out of the classroom and offers unique opportunities not found at other institutions, using her own experience as a United Nations Youth Representative as an example. She encouraged her classmates to keep learning.

“Realize that no matter where you go, you will always have the skillset that you established at Lehigh guiding you along the way,” she said. “So be proud, this is your day. But realize this achievement doesn’t end here. Learning is an ongoing process. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, to step outside your comfort zone, to take that ridiculously hard class because you’re worried that you might fail. The only barrier that lies between you and your untapped potential is you. So let yourself go, and be excited to learn. Engage with your peers, interact and seek support from your professors, and leave today knowing that as Lehigh Honors students, it is our responsibility and our duty to never stop educating ourselves.”

Rabbi Steven Nathan, director of Jewish Student Life, closed the ceremony by delivering the benediction. Linda Lowe-Krentz, professor of biological sciences, served as the University Marshal, and Kashi Johnson, professor of theatre, served as the mace bearer.

Maryam Athar Khan speaks at Lehigh University's Honors Convocation

Maryam Athar Khan ’19 speaks at the 2019 Honors Convocation

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

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