Provost Nathan Urban delivers remarks at the 2021 Honors Convocation

Provost Nathan Urban delivers remarks at the 2021 Honors Convocation

Fall 2021 Honors Convocation Recognizes Students’ Academic Accomplishments

The ceremony celebrated 154 undergraduate students for high academic achievement.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

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. 

Accomplished Students

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. 

Lehigh University student Nora Abbott

Nora Abbott ’22

Nora Abbott ’22, who will graduate with a B.S. in environmental engineering, a minor in global studies and a certificate in population health, plans to attend graduate school to study public health and environmental health and science. She is president of Lehigh’s club ultimate frisbee team, is engaged in research in environmental engineering, and serves as a student sustainability advisor in Lehigh’s United Nations Partnership and as president of the Rossin Junior Fellows in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. 

“When asked to speak, I was tasked with discussing what makes Lehigh students outstanding, both in their classroom and co-curricular activities,” Abbott said. “However, I don't think I need to convince anyone that the students here tonight are outstanding. Everyone sitting here tonight has achieved great feats in ways uniquely their own, and this is why you're being recognized. So, instead, I decided to flip the script. I'm going to discuss how Lehigh helps students achieve their outstanding potential.”

Abbott described her Lehigh experience, and how she developed relationships and found her place on campus. She noted the care and support of her parents, friends and her friends’ parents, as well as Lehigh professors and staff, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I recall Professor Kelly Austin canceled class one day because a few students mentioned being overwhelmed,” she said. “Professor Thomas McAndrew chatted with myself and my friends over coffee on Zoom. When I tested positive for COVID, unfortunately, Professor Kristen Jellison offered to purchase groceries for myself and my roommates if we needed assistance. 

“These are the actions of professors who view their students as more than just a LIN, but as extended family. Lehigh's faculty and staff believed in me and taught me how to believe in myself. I know that the Lehigh community will always be there, even as I graduate from student to alumni,” she said. 

Lehigh University student Adrian Suarez

Adrian Suarez ’22

Adrian Suarez ’22, a theatre major with a minor in economics and a certificate in global studies, plans to pursue a career in consulting, media and entertainment. He offered remarks via a prerecorded video as he could not be at the ceremony. In addition to many theatrical roles, Suarez, an Eckardt Scholar, has won Lehigh’s Williams and Amaranth Prizes for creative and critical writing. He is a member of the Iacocca Global Village for Future Leaders and is involved in Lehigh’s United Nations Partnership, serving as a U.N. Youth Representative for the Unitarian Universalist Association at the U.N. headquarters in New York. 

Suarez used humor in his remarks, joking that his peers have “made groundbreaking research from sickle cell diagnosis, climate change mitigation, and blockchain technology, among other things, while I have taken pleasure in being a theatre major whose high road to straight As involved dressing up, memorizing lines and feeding my already inflated ego on the very stage this convocation is being held in.” 

He discussed how he and his peers have accomplished great things in spite of the “global pandemonium” brought on by the pandemic, and how they’ve all been changed by the events of the past two years. 

“The only thing that I have been certain of is that every human on the face of the planet has faced some semblance of change,” including loss of a loved one and an inability to see family because of travel restrictions, Suarez said. He quoted comedian Conan O’Brien, who said “There are few things more liberating in life than having your worst fear realized,” and noted that “nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.”    

Lehigh University student Kelby Anderson

Kelby Anderson ’22

Kelby Anderson ’22, a chemical engineering major, is president of Lehigh’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, has served as president of the Newman Council for Lehigh’s Catholic ministry, has traveled to India with the Lehigh Global Citizenship Program and is the recipient of the Robert C. Hicks Prize in Chemical Engineering. Anderson intends to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering at Lehigh. 

Anderson recalled arriving early on campus as a first-year student for the PreLUsion program, and feeling a wide range of emotions: “... I tried to engross myself in the activities and events but I was too filled with emotion, sad about leaving home, terrified of what was to come and excited to meet my new roommate.”

Her early exchanges with her roommate, she said, were “awkward,” but things started to shift over time. She made many friends, including her roommate, and got involved in a variety of activities.

“That first semester was truly a whirlwind of trying to try new things, facing my fears, talking with as many people as I could, and trying to find my place on campus,” she said. “From then on, I have worked to hone in on exactly who I want to be and what I want out of my time in college.”

Anderson described a trip to the Dominican Republic with Engineers Without Borders, her experience as project leader on a project that aimed to design and implement an irrigation system for Lehigh’s Community Garden on Goodman Campus, and her trip to India through the Global Citizenship Program. These experiences, she said, prompted her decision to pursue environmental engineering in graduate school.  

“Undoubtedly, Lehigh has granted me access to experiences and shaped me in ways that I could not have dreamed of otherwise,” she said. “In fact, it has allowed me the opportunity to speak in front of all of you incredible individuals. I wish I could hear all of your stories, accomplishments, endeavors and trials. But I know that you have worked just as hard as I have and overcame so many obstacles to be here. Just know that I'm proud of you.”

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

Christa Neu

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