The ceremony was hosted by Lehigh and the Posse Foundation, with Damali Burton, director of the Posse Foundation in the Bay Area, leading the festivities. Posse Bay Area also has played a role in increasing Lehigh's visibility at high schools across California.
Posse students celebrated included Giselle Curiel, Santiago Delgado, Jordan Hackman, Kendall O’Farrell, Kendall Prime, Joseph “JJ” Swenson, Evelyn Velasquez Moreno, Alan Zarza and Trinity Lee. Jacob Marshall was in California.
Posse One mentor Heather Johnson, associate professor of sociology at Lehigh, collectively acknowledged the students’ academic and life struggles over the past four years, as they changed majors, dealt with both rigorous courses of study and roommate problems, and questioned who they are and who they wanted to be.
Quite frequently over the past four years, Johnson said, people had asked her about her posse: What were the students like? “I knew what I wanted to say about my posse,” she said. “And I would always say the same thing, and I still do. They are the 10 most resilient humans I have ever encountered.”
Johnson described resiliency as not being born on third base. “Resiliency is when you have to hit the triple under difficult circumstances,” she said. “Resiliency is the ability to withstand or recover from difficult conditions.”
In heartfelt remembrances, Johnson individually addressed each student, choosing to talk about their essence, rather than the bullet points one might find on their resumes. Each received a Posse diploma and a stole. Parents and friends also stood and offered warm remarks about the students and their accomplishments and the impact of the program on their futures.
Among the graduates, Swenson will intern over the summer in Washington, D.C. with the National Urban League, a civil rights organization fighting and advocating for economic empowerment, equality and social justice for African American people. While at Lehigh, he joined the Men of Color Alliance and later became president of the organization. In the fall, he will pursue a master’s degree in political science at Lehigh.
As a part of Posse, he said following the ceremony, he had met regularly with the other students in the group to discuss life, culture, careers and more, including instances of racial prejudice he encountered.
“I was able to feel what I was feeling, and ultimately move and grow from it,” he said. While the group was not necessarily tight-knit, he said, “we knew we had each other’s back for whatever reason. We are a Posse!”
Jensen acknowledged the students’ divergent paths in her opening remarks. “You will have interesting and wonderful paths before you,” she said. “None will be the same. …One thing you should know is that regardless of your immediate plans, you can do it. Because you have."