graduation day 2020

It was an emotional day for many members of the Class of 2020, as they were finally able to celebrate their graduation in-person Saturday after the pandemic disrupted their last year at Lehigh.

Former NASA Astronaut Terry Hart ’68 to Graduates: Be an Effective Team Member

The Lehigh mechanical engineering and mechanics professor virtually addresses the Classes of 2020 and 2021. 
UPDATE: In-person ceremony is held Saturday morning for undergraduates of the Class of 2020.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

Former NASA astronaut and Lehigh mechanical engineering and mechanics professor Terry Hart ’68 delivered a heartfelt Commencement address Friday afternoon that underscored the value of teamworknot only in getting people to the Moon but in helping organizations to succeed.

“Just as NASA’s success rides on the ability of the astronauts and the mission controllers to be a well-trained team, so does the success of any modern organization ride on the teamwork that must be cultivated throughout its membership,” Hart said in a virtual address to members of the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021.

Terry Hart Commencement Speaker

Former NASA astronaut and Lehigh mechanical engineering and mechanics professor Terry Hart ’68 virtually delivered the Commencement address.

Hart advised graduates as they “go out into the world” to focus on being effective team members, to do their part to the best of their abilities and to continue to develop team skills throughout their lives. “All good leaders are first good team players,” he said, “so do your very best to support the teams you join.”

Hart’s address was part of the kickoff to the 153rd Commencement weekend, which will include in-person ceremonies on Friday, Saturday and Monday for the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020, whose celebration was held virtually last year because of the pandemic. In all, Lehigh will host more than 3,200 graduates from both classes at the four in-person ceremonies. 

Watch Hart’s address and the kickoff to Commencement weekend here. 

Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P, chairman of the Board of Trustees, virtually opened Lehigh’s 153rd Commencement at 1 p.m. Friday. “Although things have been quite challenging for over a year now, there is still so much to celebrate,” Clayton told the graduates. “We gather today virtually to honor the resilience and accomplishment” of the graduates of both Classes.

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. So now it’s your turn to go out there and make the world a better place.

Commencement Speaker Terry Hart '68

During the kickoff, President John D. Simon ’19P acknowledged the challenges that the graduates had to face through the global pandemic, and overcome. “All of you exhibit the best of Lehigh’s spirit—the grit and the determination to get the job done that are hallmarks of our great university,” Simon said, adding, “You have truly achieved something remarkable.”

He also recognized the families of the graduates who supported their students “in the face of tremendous uncertainty.”

In his address, Hart shared a NASA tradition: In the months leading up to a launch, NASA would conduct full-mission simulations, with a supervisor injecting timely failures to challenge the crew and the Mission Control team. With one problem nearly solved, the team would be hit with another problem. Ultimately, he said, the team was allowed to ride through a flawless launch, followed by a perfect mission. 

“Well, today is that perfect day for you,” Hart told the graduates. “Our faculty has done their best to prepare you, and it’s time for you to launch yourself into the world. You have learned a great deal in your time here, but most importantly, you have learned how to learn, and that will serve you very well throughout your lives.” 

Mikayla Spott, Serena Walker Jean and

Mikayla Spott '21, Serena Walker Jean '21 and Nazr El-Scari '21 celebrate their achievements.

Hart reflected on his time at Lehigh in the 1960s, when McDonald’s was a novelty in the community, the government had started mandating seatbelts, the “Hill” was rocking with bands from the tri-state area playing the sounds of the day and musicians such as Simon and Garfunkel came to campus. 

He also reflected on the tragic events of the decade, which saw the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and protests across the country over the Vietnam War. “Yet in time we recovered and we healed as a nation,” he said. Among the triumphs, he noted: 12 astronauts landed on the Moon and came back to Earth safely. 

“We do move forward, albeit in fits and starts sometimes,” he said, “and I think your generation is poised right now to move us forward in entirely new ways. … You will have your challenges for sure, furthering social justice, combating hunger and poverty and controlling global climate change to name just three, but you will rise to the occasion, I’m sure of it.”

Hart said people often ask him what he found most exciting about his years at NASA, expecting that he’ll tell them about what it’s like riding a rocket into space, the feeling of weightlessness or the view out the window from the Earth orbit. 

“Actually, most often I tell them about the amazing job that NASA does in training the astronauts and the mission controllers to work together as a team,” he said. “If you’ve watched the Apollo 13 movie, you saw just how critical that teamwork was in bringing the crew home safely after their oxygen tank had ruptured.”  As NASA’s finest moment, he said, the mission demonstrated what a highly motivated, well-trained team can accomplish.

Being part of that team as it prepared to launch the Space Shuttle program was the most exciting time of his career, Hart said. 

He told the graduates, “Throughout your careers, you will have many opportunities to be a member of a team focused on accomplishing something very new and challenging.” With the world becoming more complex, it has become apparent that diverse, multidisciplinary teams will be needed to solve the most complicated of problems, he said. 

He pointed to Lehigh’s many interdisciplinary centers, which he said are designed to tackle the most complex problems facing the environment, health care, education and other fields, and to the engineers, scientists, economists, psychologists and others who contribute to their mission. 

"Teamwork is a beautiful thing,” he told the graduates. “So now it’s your turn to go out there and make the world a better place.”

Hart was introduced by one of his former students, Andrew J. Abraham ’11G ‘14G, who is now engineering manager, Mission Analysis and Operations Department, The Aerospace Corporation. When it came to education, he said, Hart was always willing “to fly the extra mile.”

At the closing, Lauren M. Manduke ’05, former president of the Lehigh University Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates into the alumni association. “I continue to be amazed by the strength, perseverance and determination of the Lehigh graduate,” she said. “The Classes of 2020 and 2021 will go down in Lehigh’s history for so many reasons. And you should all be so very proud of what you have been able to achieve despite all of the hurdles thrown at you over the past year.”

Following the virtual kickoff, a combined in-person Commencement ceremony was held Friday afternoon at the Murray H. Goodman Stadium for members of both the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 who were awarded master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. A hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates also was jointly held.

Celebrating the Class of 2020

members of the Class of 2020 express themselves

Members of the Class of 2020 express themselves on their mortarboards.

On a bright Saturday morning, Clayton, chair of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees, opened the in-person ceremony at Goodman Stadium for the Class of 2020 undergraduates who had to celebrate virtually last spring because of the pandemic. He also thanked President Simon for his leadership the past six years and acknowledged that the Commencement ceremonies being held through Monday would be his last 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. 

Simon, who introduced the student speakers, noted “the grit and determination” of the graduates who had not only mastered the rigors of academia but did so during a global pandemic. “I am proud and happy to wish you all much success as you continue in your careers,” he told them.

senior class President William J. Pemberton ’20

Senior class President William J. Pemberton ’20,

In a moving address, senior class President William J. Pemberton ’20, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a minor in political science, reminded fellow members of the Class of 2020 about some of their shared experiences: the pasta bar at Rathbone, the beauty of Linderman Library, the rigorous academics, the Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry, the Halsey concert that kicked off the Go Campaign.

“All of these experiences and more have shaped us into who we are today,” said Pemberton, founder and past chair of the Lehigh Minority Business Alliance and now an investment banking analyst with Citigroup in New York City. “They serve as the anchors of a journey in which we left the nest, we spread our wings and we worked our way to the top of South Mountain.”

Along the way, he told his fellow graduates, they learned valuable lessons: “Lehigh taught us to work hard, in expectation of nothing being given, but everything earned. Lehigh taught us to be good people who embody intellectual curiosity and generosity, people who desire to work collectively, together, with those around us to create solutions, people who never neglect the importance of building relationships and embrace the truth that people won’t always remember what you said or did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”

Pemberton quoted from a sermon by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, “The Drum Major Sermon,” which he said speaks to people’s basic desires to be recognized and to feel important. He said King cautioned that the “Drum Major Instinct” can become destructive if, in the desire to be leading the parade, people push others down while pushing themselves up or seek an accumulation of shallow material wealth. King encouraged that people channel the instinct “in the right ways” by seeking to be first in generosity, moral excellence and love.

“So, my fellow classmates,” he said, “from this mountain we shall spread our wings and allow the winds of this world to carry us forward, in pursuit of a cause greater than ourselves, leaving this world a better place than we found it, as the next generation of leaders that this world, this new mountain, needs.”

Student speaker Laney Delaney ’20

Student speaker Laney Delaney 20

Student speaker Laney Delaney 20, who received a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in sociology, was selected by class peers to give an address. Delaney was deputy multimedia editor for The Brown and White and now works as a video producer and editor with Zebra Press in Alexandria, Va. 

In an address punctuated by both humor and deep reflection, Delaney spoke about the challenge of trying to understand the profound loss they felt at missing the last few months of their college experience because of the pandemic, especially when “stacked up” to the profound losses felt around the world.

But I came to the realization that there’d be few times in my life where community would be so accessible to me as it was at Lehigh,” Delaney said. “In my opinion, it's in its constellation of subcultures that Lehigh finds its charm.”

Referring to their Lehigh experience as “a charcuterie board of things,” Delaney said “college isn’t just about walking away with a job, even if that is your end goal. It’s about learning, and cliche as it is to say, the lessons I learned outside the classroom have merit of their own.” 

At the ceremony, Delaney urged the graduates to hold tight to the “feeling of togetherness” they enjoyed at the ceremony and encouraged them to “be good to yourselves, be good to each other and even in the hardest of times, try and stay optimistic, if not for your own sake, then for each other’s.” 

Pemberton and Denny Diehl '70 helped close the ceremony with the traditional ringing of the bell. Mark A. Schafer '20 '22G sang the National Anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, and Casey D. Durso '20 sang the Alma Mater at its end. 

Lehigh will hold two ceremonies for 2021 undergraduates Monday. The first session at 10 a.m. will be for undergraduates receiving degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Business. The second session at 2 p.m. will be for undergraduates from the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, and interdisciplinary programs.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

Videography by

Stephanie Veto

Related Stories

Screenshot of E.J. Dionne Jr. giving his address

Professor, Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. Delivers Virtual Baccalaureate Address

Dionne is a Washington Post columnist, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and professor in the foundations of democracy and culture at Georgetown University.

grads toss up their motarboards

Celebrating Lehigh’s Class of 2021

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

Graduates walk across the Goodman Stadium grass

Lehigh holds Doctoral Hooding, Commencement for Graduate Students

Those receiving master’s and doctoral degrees from the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 were honored in a joint ceremony Friday afternoon.