Students, family and friends gathered in the Diamond Theater of Zoellner Arts Center on Friday, Dec. 3, for this year’s Honors Convocation recognizing seniors who earned a cumulative grade point average of 3.8 or higher out of a possible 4.0. The ceremony was originally scheduled for Parents’ Weekend in September but was postponed due to a spike in COVID cases on campus. The Fall 2020 convocation was held virtually.
Jennifer Jensen, deputy provost for academic affairs, opened the ceremony.
“This distinction is typically earned by about 11% of each graduating class,” said Jensen, who applauded students for their accomplishments during a particularly challenging time.
“An awful lot has changed for you in the last couple of years,” she said. “You finished your sophomore year on Zoom, and a very large proportion of you spent your junior year on Zoom. You watched the world around you face a global health pandemic and go through tremendous financial upheaval. And you watched city after city in America face enormous challenges, as well as damages to our social fabric, up to and including murder of too many citizens of color. Some of your families may have faced these challenges directly. Despite all of these challenges, you have excelled.”
Jensen introduced Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, who reflected on the role of community in the students’ success.
“These last two years, especially, have taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most important lesson is that none of us is alone,” he said. “We are tied to the communities we live in and the company that we keep. When one of us succeeds, it is always because of the support, guidance and mentorship of others. Parents, family, faculty and friends are key members of the support system. We all take great pride in the work that you've done and the milestones that you have accomplished.”
Urban offered the students some advice, encouraging them to spend time reflecting on what their college education was really about: “To me, a great college education is not just about preparing for your first job. Yes, we must do that. But it is not enough. We need to prepare you for jobs that don't yet exist. Your college education, your Lehigh education, has done this. It has prepared you to deal with the unknown and the unknowable.”
Urban described how universities prepare students with “a set of strategic reserves to prepare for a future that we can't predict,” and encouraged students to appreciate one reserve in particular: “the reserve of relationships and human connections that we will call upon throughout our lives. … In your final semester at Lehigh, I hope that you strengthen these connections and forge new ones that will serve you for decades.”
Urban’s second piece of advice came from Lehigh alumnus Lee Iacocca, who Urban called an icon of American business and the American auto industry: “Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen.”
Think about what your education has prepared you to do, Urban urged students, referencing the successful careers of other Lehigh alumni, including Cathy Engelbert ’86, currently commissioner of the WNBA, and Beth Galetti ’93, now Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Amazon, who “made things happen over their entire careers using their Lehigh education.
“... These are the kinds of stories that are awaiting you. So as you enter your final semester at Lehigh, consider what you have learned and how you have changed during your time at Lehigh, and what you want to make happen,” he said.
Jensen introduced the three student speakers, whom she said represented a broad range of Lehigh experiences both in and out of the classroom, and were nominated by vice provosts, deans, associate deans and directors of campus programs.
“This room is filled with tremendously accomplished and talented seniors, and our speakers are some of our most successful, creative and accomplished,” Jensen said.