172nd Commencement Ceremony

The virtual event celebrated the more than 600 graduates of Muhlenberg College who earned degrees in May and October of this year.

By: Bill Keller  Tuesday, October 20, 2020 04:20 PM

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On Sunday, October 18, Muhlenberg College aired a virtual Commencement ceremony for graduates who earned the degrees Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Sciences, Bachelor of Arts & Sciences and Bachelor of Business Administration. Of the more than 600 graduates honored, approximately 54 earned degrees from the recently renamed Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies.

The College also awarded honorary degrees to author and Director of College Autism Spectrum Jane Thierfeld Brown P’10, Pastor and former Coordinator of the Urban Training Center of New City Parish Brian Eklund ’66, former President of HSBC Business Credit (USA) Inc. John Heffer P’96 and Harvard University Assistant Professor of Education Anthony Abraham Jack. Following the conferment of his honorary degree, Jack addressed the Class of 2020 and their guests.

Jack is the author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Poor Students, a work that explores the differences in college experience between low-income students from under-resourced school districts and those who received scholarships to wealthy private high schools. In his speech to the class, Jack discussed his self-appointed role as university agitator, pushing administrators, staff and faculty in higher education to seek understanding of the different experiences and challenges facing their student bodies and to effect change in policies and procedures so that students from all backgrounds can make the most of their college experiences. He also challenged the Class of 2020 to take the passions that inspired them and the causes that motivated them at Muhlenberg into the larger world.

“On your graduation day, a day symbolizing the culmination of your hard work and dedication, I ask you to remain steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in your search for truth. We need you, your talents and inquisitive minds, now, more than ever. I am hopeful to the point of being expectant, that you will not go meekly into these dark days, but rather, brilliantly, be the beacon of light and hope that only you can,” said Jack. “Your time at Muhlenberg to sit and think and dream and oft conspire may have come to an end, but now you get to do. And I know that you are ready.”

Senior speaker Michael Bonaddio, a finance and business administration major, addressed the class, extolling the virtues of his peers, who he said embraced the defining characteristics of a MULE, the College’s mascot: a magnificent personality, an unpretentious nature, the traits of a leader and a sense of empowerment.

School of Continuing Studies speaker Nerfis Nieves, a psychology major, recounted her own experience returning to higher education as an adult. She shared stories of her first moments on campus, connecting with advisors who took her education seriously and made her feel welcome, and she told her fellow graduates that the time in which they are graduating served as a wake-up call for the work they should be prepared to do in the world.

“We've been given an incredible opportunity to rewrite what is possible, with the potential for meaningful change that inspires hope and awakens in all of us the desire to live in a world where respect and truth is the norm, where getting into good trouble is expected and where our most valuable resource is each other,” said Nieves.

The ceremony came to a close with remarks from President Kathleen Harring, who acknowledged the many challenges the class had faced over the past months—but spoke, too, of the resiliency exhibited by the class and the opportunities possible when individuals come together to overcome tragedy. She expressed a sense of optimism for the accomplishments of the class, both for those achieved and those to come.

“Throughout your time at the College, you continually challenged us all to do more and be better. This gives me great hope that our College, our community and our country can forge a way beyond the disruption and uncertainty we face today," said Harring. "The process of growth and learning does not end when we graduate. Each of you has helped this institution learn and grow. And we look to you to remain a vital part of who we are as a community in your new role as alumni … Class of 2020, my hope in our future is with you. Congratulations."

During the ceremony, Harring presented two faculty awards: Jessica Cooperman, associate professor of religion studies and director of the Jewish Studies Program, received the Paul C. Empie ’29 Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching, which honors excellence in inspirational teaching. Cathy Marie Ouellette, associate professor of history and director of the Latin American & Caribbean Studies Program, was named the recipient of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award, given to a faculty member who "exhibits a commitment to excellence in classroom teaching and a personal concern toward students' learning."

Student honors went to senior speaker Bonaddio and Mary Katherine Baumel (biology and political science), who were each named Muhlenberg Alumni Association Future Leaders. Gabriela Solomon, an accounting and finance major and the Class of 2020 salutatorian, was noted for her 3.992 grade point average, and Brooke Weber, an English and media & communication major and the Class of 2020 valedictorian, was celebrated for her perfect 4.0 GPA.