first posse of lehigh graduates

Lehigh celebrated the accomplishments of its first “posse” of students to graduate from the university. From left are students Evelyn Velasquez Moreno, Santiago Delgado, Trinity Lee, Jordan Hackman and Joseph "JJ" Swenson; Posse One mentor Heather Johnson, associate professor of sociology at Lehigh; students Kendall Prime, Alan Zarza, Kendall O'Farrell and Giselle Curiel.

Lehigh Celebrates its First ‘Posse’ of Graduates

The initial cohort of students from the Bay Area of California has made a significant impact on the university, Posse liaison Jennifer Jensen says.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Asgar Ali

In an emotional two-hour ceremony Sunday at the Alumni Memorial Building, Lehigh celebrated the accomplishments of its first “posse” of students to graduate from the university as part of its partnership with The Posse Foundation in the Bay Area of California. 

The 10-student “posse” arrived on campus for the Fall 2018 semester–the first cohort to start at Lehigh as part of the ongoing partnership, which aims to expand educational opportunities for a diverse group of high school students with academic and leadership potential who might not otherwise have considered applying to the university. Lehigh welcomed additional 10-student cohorts to campus at the start of each subsequent academic year.

When I think about Posse 1 scholars, I think of leaders,” said Jennifer Jensen, the Posse liaison and deputy provost for academic affairs at Lehigh. She told the students honored at the ceremony, “You walked onto this campus and you engaged. You joined groups, led activities, applied for and earned national awards and recognition.” 

Jennifer Jensen addresses students

Jennifer Jensen, the Posse liaison and deputy provost for academic affairs at Lehigh, addresses students at the ceremony. 

Lehigh had provided the students with full tuition scholarships in its ongoing commitment to create a more diverse campus environment, promote equity in higher education and broaden its work on inclusion. 

Jensen noted that most, if not all, of the students, probably had never heard of Lehigh or Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, before they had started the Posse Foundation interview process. 

“You took a leap when you came here,” Jensen said. “...You came here to dive in–to college and the world. And dive in, you did.” 

Posse is partly about institutional change, in addition to helping talented students succeed at selective colleges and universities across the country, Jensen said. Lehigh is seeking to improve equity and provide opportunities for outstanding leaders.

“I literally can’t think of Lehigh in its fullness without thinking of this cohort,” Jensen said. “You have made such an impact on Lehigh. Classroom discussions. Multicultural organizations. Athletic teams. Greek life. Study abroad. Independent research. Campus protest. I see you everywhere I look.”

Jensen acknowledged that the journey was not an easy one. “I know that you have struggled,” she said. “ I know this in part because some of you have told me this. Honestly I think you have been harder on yourselves, at times, than I or others around you would have been. That is, in part, because you are strivers, and leaders. You have set a high bar, and you have met it.”

Damali Burton, director of the Posse Foundation in the Bay Area, leading the festivities.

Damali Burton, director of the Posse Foundation in the Bay Area, led the festivities.

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."

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Asgar Ali

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