Celebrating Lehigh’s Class of 2021

Lehigh holds two in-person Commencement ceremonies Monday for Class of 2021 undergraduates.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

Lehigh held the first of two Commencement ceremonies Monday morning for undergraduates of the Class of 2021, with student speaker Jessica Scuderi ’21 noting the joy of being able to celebrate in person, given the challenges of the pandemic and a year of Zoom meetings. 

“I am grateful that this ceremony is in person, that we are together,” said Scuderi, who was chosen by her peers to give the address because of her contributions to the Lehigh community and her ability to reflect on the university’s mission and values.

Being at Lehigh, she told her fellow graduates, means “pride, it means working towards a more equitable and inclusive community, it means recognizing and celebrating diversity, it means you are a part of a family founded on tradition and a legacy of greatness.”

Being at Lehigh also means being driven, she said. “We aim high and we aim with conviction, we are creative and curious, we ask big questions and seek mindful solutions. We are leaders, and we are resilient. We are Lehigh Strong.”

Lehigh’s first Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 undergraduates began at 10 a.m. at Murray H. Goodman Stadium. The first session was for undergraduates receiving degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Business. 

Parveen Gupta with students

Parveen P. Gupta, who holds the William L. Clayton Distinguished Professorship, rejoices with students at the Commencement ceremony for 2021 undergraduates of the College of Business.

A second session for undergraduates from the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, and interdisciplinary programs, began at 2 p.m.

In all, 1,295 students in the Class of 2021 received their bachelor degrees, in addition to 549 students who received master’s degrees and 104 who received doctoral degrees as part of Friday’s Commencement ceremony and hooding. The graduates hailed from 45 states and Washington, D.C., as well as 36 countries outside of the United States. 

While our circumstances were not ideal, we all did everything in our power to make the most of it, and that is incredible.

Student speaker Jessica Scuderi ’21

At Monday’s ceremonies, Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P, chair of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees, welcomed graduates and their families. He thanked President John D. Simon ’19P for his leadership the past six years and acknowledged the Commencement ceremonies would be the last for Simon at Lehigh.  Simon, who is Lehigh’s 14th president, will step down at the end of June and Joseph J. Helble ’82 will assume the presidency Aug. 16. 

“We are truly proud to celebrate the Class of 2021, especially in light of the challenges that they have all faced—and overcome—since March of 2020,” Simon said, noting their “grit and determination.” 

In her address, Scuderi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations, with minors in health, medicine, and society and biology, shared her personal journey at Lehigh, in which she changed her major several times and was part of several of the colleges. 

student speaker Jessica Scuderi ’21

Student speaker Jessica Scuderi ’21

I rationalize my indecisiveness with the fact that I was always chasing what I thought was something fulfilling and something great,” she said. “But what took me too long to realize was that while I was trying to achieve something incredible, I was becoming something incrediblesomeone who has found the harmonious balance of self-preservation and self-discovery. It is retaining who I am while still aiming to grow. And I am confident that the same thing happened to many of you.”

Scuderi was a member of the Student Senate, serving on several committees, including the COVID-19 response committee. She became an orientation leader her junior year, which she counts among her most rewarding experiences at Lehigh. She also held several leadership positions within her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, and has been a volunteer with Best Buddies and LifePath, working with persons who have developmental disabilities.

Scuderi acknowledged the struggles that her fellow graduates likely felt, whether in striving to perform well in difficult classes or getting rejected from internships and jobs. But she said, there was an inherent beauty in the struggles they had and in trying to overcome them, especially given the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

“While our circumstances were not ideal,” she said, “we all did everything in our power to make the most of it, and that is incredible.”

Scuderi says she learned many things while at Lehigh: “I have learned that the Lehigh Lookaway is a real thing, that there is nothing that Hawks Nest or the Goose can’t cure, and that a Mountain Hawk is not a real animal (but don’t tell Clutch). I have learned the value of myself, of my peers, and to appreciate all of the opportunities that our community has offered.”

Scuderi said Lehigh has prepared her and her fellow graduates well for whatever comes next. 

“That is the power of this place—a place that teaches you that even if you can’t be an astronaut, you can still shoot for the moon,” she said, then challenged her fellow graduates. “Dare to be something great. Use what Lehigh has given you and run with it.”

In the morning session, Marco G. E. Biaggio '21 sang the National Anthem and the Alma Mater, and in the afternoon session, Natalie E. Maroun '21 sang both. Sam Dugan '71 and Amy Hoover '21 helped close the ceremony with the traditional ringing of the bell. 

Lehigh also held a Commencement ceremony Saturday morning for the Class of 2020. Former NASA astronaut and Lehigh mechanical engineering and mechanics professor Terry Hart ’68 virtually delivered a heartful Commencement address Friday

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

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