Commencement 2024

Scott Willoughby ’89 delivered the Commencement address at Sunday's undergraduate ceremony for the Class of 2024.

Scott Willoughby ’89 to Lehigh’s Class of 2024: ‘Discover You, Find Success’

Willoughby, senior vice president of performance excellence at Northrop Grumman and program manager for NASA’s James Webb telescope, delivered the address during Lehigh’s 156th Commencement.

Photography by

Christa Neu

Northrop Grumman’s Scott Willoughby ’89 took Lehigh graduates, families and guests on a cosmic journey during Sunday’s undergraduate ceremony for the Class of 2024—a journey 13.5 billion years back in time, to the birth of the universe…and how that led him to where he is today.

Delivering the keynote address at the 156th undergraduate ceremony, Willoughby, a first-generation college student, shared that his own career was not a series of “well-thought-out milestones,” but one in which learning about himself “was far more important than matching anyone else’s expectations of what I should be.”

Willoughby, senior vice president of performance excellence for Northrop Grumman, had played a pivotal role in the development of NASA’s James Webb space telescope, an engineering marvel and the world’s most powerful space telescope ever built. Northrop Grumman, a leading global aerospace and defense technology company, served as prime contractor on the telescope.

To design, build, test and launch Webb, a global endeavor was needed to make its historic mission a reality. The Northrop Grumman industry team, led by Willoughby in partnership with NASA, designed, built, completed its integration, tested its state-of-the-art scientific instruments and prepared the observatory for launch. The Webb program enlisted more than 14 countries, three space agencies (NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency), 400 companies and suppliers, and 300 universities and science organizations to take the telescope from concept to reality.

“We, humanity, have built a cosmic time machine,” Willoughby said. “It was a mission NASA conceived to answer the questions, where do we come from? And are we alone?”

Willoughby described the development and construction of the telescope as being marked by several failures, all of which were closely watched by the media and the public. He said allowing the public to witness the challenging journey “only cemented how important and impressive the success was at the end of it.”

Willoughby said as the launch approached, he was frequently asked if the Webb project would be successful.

“I said, ‘We have done all we could do to ensure success on the ground and it was time to send it a million miles away and witness the outcome,’” Willoughby recalled. “It’s how your parents and professors feel today, confident you are leaving here with the best they could give you to go and make your mark on the world.”

Webb successfully launched into orbit in December 2021. Six months later, the world received the first images the telescope captured.

“Views of the universe that human eyes had never seen before,” Willoughby marveled. “In the following days, those iconic images were everywhere: they were the headlines of almost every major newspaper around the world, they were on the billboards of Times Square and Piccadilly…the Google doodle was done for Webb in our honor and, my proudest, the Empire State Building lit in gold [a nod to Webb’s gold mirrors] to celebrate Webb.”

Willoughby then fast-forwarded to the 1980s, when he was a young man from New Jersey dropped off at Dravo for his first year at Lehigh. Willoughby said he arrived on campus with only a few possessions and immediately felt out of place.

“I had never taken an AP class, I didn’t dress the same as others and I had little social grace,” Willoughby said.

Despite the sense that he didn’t belong at Lehigh, he quickly learned not to judge a book by its cover. Although some students matched Willoughby’s expectations, he found that most exhibited kindness toward him. Willoughby shared how one of his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers literally gave him the shirt off his back when he lent (and eventually gave) Willoughby the required collared shirt for dinner each night.

Willoughby then jumped to the next phase of his journey: post-grad life. In 1989, he relocated to California to embark on a career in engineering. Traveling cross-country with just a few hundred dollars and beginning the next chapter of his life wasn’t what scared Willoughby; the pressure to perform in his new job was what rattled him.

“I still felt like I didn’t belong,” Willoughby said. “I was on another playing field defined by others. What did I learn after many trials and tribulations in the working world? I learned that I didn’t have to be defined by others' standards.”

In the early days of his career, searching for where he truly fit in his new life, Willoughby discovered he possessed a skill for reverse engineering. He said he had a talent for looking at something and fixing it. The small details that others glossed over were what Willoughby found interesting. To learn more about how to fix things, he spent time with people who built and tested systems and eventually became “the go-to person when things were in trouble.” It was then that he defined not only his place in his career, but himself.

Willoughby’s journey concluded in the present day as he addressed Lehigh’s Class of 2024, noting, “this generation, unlike any other, has learned how to survive and succeed in adversity.”

“I truly hope what you can take away from today is that what makes you you is your strength,” Willoughby told the graduates. “By applying that to the fullest, you can truly achieve anything. But also feel secure in knowing you don’t actually have to know what that ‘anything’ is today. Learn who you are first. Discover you, find success.”

Willoughby closed by saying, “When you learn who you are and what you bring, and do not accept others' definitions, you work on building a foundation of unique greatness. Conquer success by discovering you first. And as you progress, I assure you your summit will exceed your dreams.”

Commencement 2024

‘A Class of Resiliency’

President Joseph J. Helble ’82 opened the ceremony and introduced Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nathan Urban, who greeted the graduates and guests.

Urban introduced Jack Narducci ’24, a finance major in the College of Business. Narducci was a cadet in Lehigh’s Army ROTC Steel Battalion, where he served as the Cadet Battalion Commander. He will be commissioned this week as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army as a Distinguished Military Graduate and plans to attend law school.

Reflecting on his time at Lehigh, Narducci also referenced the Class of 2024 entering the university during the height of the pandemic in the fall of 2020. He noted several milestones that marked the Lehigh experience for this class, including arriving on campus as first-year students to be greeted with masks and thermometers and meeting peers on computer screens.

He underscored that the Class of 2024 is living in uncertain times, bound to face issues that transcend their academic studies. Yet the unusual and occasionally trying circumstances that marked a pivotal period in global history forced his peers to be adaptable and prepared them for the unexpected.

“These are our issues,” Narducci said. “The issues of our entire generation. Issues spanning from right here in Bethlehem to every corner of the world. Luckily, Lehigh and the Class of 2024 have no geographical limit. We are a collection of dedicated students from around the world, equipped with the knowledge and capacity to help others. And in Lehigh fashion, we’ll work tirelessly to find solutions.”

Referring to a world that “desperately needs our help,” Narducci closed by saying, “what truly defines this class will be the lasting work we do and the people we impact.”

‘My Ask is That You Continue to Do the Hard Work’

Helble returned to the podium to address graduates and opened by recalling some of the challenges the Class of 2024 faced as they embarked on their college journeys, including remote learning and the absence of a shared a college experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“None of us seeks out experiences that make us resilient,” Helble said, “but I am confident that when you face your first set of difficult decisions as a professional, you will be stronger in the face of that uncertainty. You will be resilient.”

Expanding upon the theme of resilience, he stated that, like the graduating class, both Lehigh as an institution and the city of Bethlehem overcame challenges and thrived, and noted that this is a moment in time that demands higher education be resilient as well.

Helble acknowledged that graduates are exiting Lehigh at a time that is “profoundly challenging,” and entering a post-COVID world where societal concerns range from war and climate to mental health issues.

Commencement 2024

“I have come to know many of you,” Helble said, “and I have seen that resilience, that grounded determination, and that sense of community that defines Lehigh. You are always ready for a challenge. Because at Lehigh, we climb higher.”
Helble continued, “I know that you are up for the challenges that await you beyond these stadium walls. Because you do not choose the easy path.”

He referenced a 1962 commencement address by President John F. Kennedy, sharing an excerpt that spoke to “the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” which Helble applied to today’s connected world. He said that with the ease and convenience of information available at our fingertips, “it is easier to feel informed without actually being informed.”

Helble concluded with a request: “Lehigh graduates, my ask of you is that you continue to do the hard work.”

He called graduates to engage in deep thought that arises from listening to others who hold different opinions, ask questions and learn from one another.

“When you do, I know you will continue to challenge yourselves to do better, to be better and, as we do at Lehigh, to climb higher.”

The undergraduate Commencement followed Saturday’s graduate Commencement and doctoral hooding ceremony.

There were 1,458 undergraduates in the Class of 2024…138 graduates received interdisciplinary bachelor’s degrees … They hailed from 47 states and 59 countries outside of the U.S.… Undergraduates majored in 71 different disciplines … The ceremony began with an invocation from Rabbi Steven P. Nathan, endowed director of Jewish Student Life and associate chaplain, and was followed by the national anthem, led by Caleb T. Reed ’24 … Jack M. Narducci ’24 delivered the undergraduate remarks …. The ceremony officially concluded with the ringing of the bell by representatives of the classes of 1974 (Andrew M. Shmerler) and 2024 (Jermaine J. Marshall) ... The benediction was offered by Rabbi Nathan … The alma mater was led by Sarah B. Quinn ’24 and Katherine M. Stenerson ’24…. The Allentown Band delivered its 41st consecutive performance at Lehigh’s Commencement ceremony. It is America's oldest civilian concert band, with its first documented performance on July 4, 1828.

Photography by

Christa Neu

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