Lehigh’s Baccalaureate service was held virtually Sunday afternoon for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and professor in the foundations of democracy and culture at Georgetown University, delivered a message that largely focused on the impact each individual’s actions have on others and that successes in life are never only one’s own doing.
University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies, welcomed viewers and explained the need for a virtual service due to COVID space restrictions in the traditional setting of Packer Memorial Church. After a succinct history of the Baccalaureate service and reflecting on the past year by mentioning the pandemic, racial tensions and political divisions, Steffen introduced Walead Mosaad, director of Muslim Student Life, who introduced Rabbi Steven Nathan, director of Jewish Student Life and associate chaplain. Both gave brief remarks with respect to their religious traditions as Mosaad gave insight on how to deal with adversity and Nathan related the challenges of the past year that Steffen mentioned to a reading from the third chapter of the biblical book Ecclesiastes. Steffen then turned the program over to the invited speaker, Dionne.
Using the pandemic to frame a portion of his message, Dionne said all received a lesson as everyone was forced to care about the health of others and did so through behaving responsibly, getting vaccinated and masking. While some of that was for individual safety, many of those actions also protected loved ones and communities.
“Some of you remember watching Sesame Street,” Dionne said. “They had a regular riff about words and letters. ‘Today is brought to you by the letter M’ or the word. I think the successes of this period we just went through were brought to us by the word ‘mutuality.’”
Dionne asked students to remember that mutuality is both social and individual and that they should remember when it’s time to come to the support of others. “You do it because it's right,” he said, “and you do it because you know that whatever group you're part of may someday need others to defend your rights to secure justice for you and for your family.”
Dionne said his niece, Sarah Boyle ’18, who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science, and a master’s degree in business management from Lehigh, loved Lehigh and the education she received. But above all, he said, treasured what she learned from fellow classmates who had “very different views and very different backgrounds from her own.”
“I suspect that in the years to come you will join her in remembering each other, remembering lessons you absorbed, the advice you gave to and received from friends in conversations late into the night, the issues you hashed over about philosophy and meaning and morality, yes, but also about sports and music and novels and movies and maybe even love,” Dionne said.
Dionne noted how much Lehigh students accomplished despite the extra challenges the pandemic presented and praised The Brown and White, Lehigh’s student newspaper, for documenting and analyzing it all. He cited stories about campus closures, student volunteers working at local hospitals to assist during the pandemic and community service projects continuing despite social distancing. He also recognized the student athletes, specifically referencing the women’s lacrosse and baseball teams, for the seasons they completed.
“Think of all of the students that I mentioned standing in for each and every one of you who showed such commitment and discipline and devotion to your school, to your teams and to your community,” Dionne said.