As the band began the opening number at this year's commencement, Harry Lessig '67 glanced nervously at the stage. He then focused his video camera on the parade of the Class of 2001 graduates coming toward him. Among these young men and women was his daughter Rachel, the fourth of five family members to graduate Muhlenberg.
"We always scope out how to set up," he said, as the family gathered yet again for a Muhlenberg graduation. "We attend the baccalaureate, get sandwiches for lunch, and then settle in for the graduation ceremony."
After attending four graduation ceremonies at Muhlenberg (his own and now three of his children), Harry has become a pro at selecting the best seats. For the Lessigs, commencement actually began at 5:30 a.m., when the family got up to prepare for the big day. Harry arrived on the front lawn at 7 a.m. to reserve 18 seats in the front row, roping off each one and taping down a "Lessig family" sign.
"It's a little overwhelming," Rachel said, of her graduation day. "But it means so much to my Dad."
The Lessig-Muhlenberg connection began with Harry, but has since continued with his four children. The family is a mixture of lawyers, doctors, potential rabbis and more. However, the four children and their father share a common bond--all five of them have college memories at Muhlenberg.
"As my father was moving me into Prosser, he mentioned all of us graduating from Muhlenberg," Louis, Class of 1993 and the oldest of the Lessig children, said with a laugh. "He said, 'wouldn't it be nice if everyone came here and we could give them diplomas?' I don't think he expected any of this when he said that."
The siblings have continued the Muhlenberg tradition, and despite their differences, share other parts of their college experiences, as well. For example, it has become a tradition since Louis for the Lessig children to live in Prosser their freshman year. Plus, Rachel and Amanda, Class of 2003, are in the same sorority. And, some of the siblings have shared professors with each other; others have shared the same professors with their father.
"I remember one time when my Dad sat in on one of my chemistry classes," Rachel said. "He'd had Dr. Shive when he was here and came back one day to sit in on a lecture."
Though a few of Harry's professors remain at Muhlenberg, the campus has gone through some major changes since the '60s. Many new buildings have been added on campus and the existing structures have gone through their own changes as well.
"Physically the buildings have increased and changed," Harry said, "but the education going on inside the buildings has also increased."
It is these high academic standards and strong liberal arts programs that led the Lessig children to choose Muhlenberg over other schools.
So with such a strong Muhlenberg tradition, is there pressure for Lessig family members to choose Muhlenberg when making the college decision?
"I felt pressure," Amanda said. "There was the uncertainty of letting down my family if I didn't go to Muhlenberg."
For the most part, however, the pressure has resulted in positive experiences for the family, and the experiences have brought them together.
"It's nice to have support and a ride home," Erica, Class of 2000, said of her year at Muhlenberg with her younger sisters on the same campus. "We are completely different people; we do different things. Being at the same school connected us when all of us do different things in our lives. It gives us cohesiveness."
The Lessig home, which is in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., is filled with Muhlenberg merchandise, which supports the common Muhlenberg alumni thread throughout the family. All family members have Muhlenberg sweatshirts and jackets, in addition to an array of other Muhlenberg insignia.
"I have the chair and the lamp," Harry said, "and all of our cars are decorated with various stickers. We even have a Muhlenberg dog bowl."
The family's dedication to its members was apparent, as Harry and the rest of the Lessigs, armed with cameras, waited for Rachel to pass by in the procession. Standing next to Louis was his fiancÚ, Meredith Frimpter, Class of 1997, a fellow lawyer.
And, when it came time to receive her diploma, Rachel wasn't standing alone either.
Harry took the stage, joined by Louis and Erica, to present Rachel with her diploma. The tradition started at Louis' graduation when Harry gave Louis his diploma.
"I think it's one of the greatest thrills to give a diploma to your child," Harry said. "Graduation is a very important part of the life cycle, and it's a thrill to come back to Muhlenberg and do it again."
Both Louis and Erica have received diplomas from their father, an act that added yet another dimension of sentiment to their graduation day.
"It really made the day more special," Louis said. "It was nice to have that added connection."
Amanda watched from the audience, knowing that her family will be in the same place in two years for her graduation.
As for her feelings on attending her third Muhlenberg commencement? She put it all in perspective as she laughed and said, "It's just another family function."