Elon's graduates dodged the threat of rain and graduated in a glorious morning ceremony held at the center of campus on the main quad stretching from Alamance Building to Moseley Center.
Elon University’s 126th Commencement exercises held on May 21 featured the usual pomp and ceremony fit for the occasion, but it also veered from tradition.
After a weeklong threat of rain and considerable effort to prepare for indoor ceremonies in alumni gymnasium, the skies cleared early Saturday morning and the ceremony was held outdoors as planned, on the lawn that stretches from Fonville Fountain to Moseley Center. The move from the historic Commencement location, Under the Oaks, was necessary because of construction of new School of Communications facilities in that area.
The 1,334 members of the Class of 2016 were the first to graduate in this campus venue, which included closing Haggard Avenue and spreading chairs across the road and onto the hills on Young Commons. The vista, with Alamance building as a backdrop, was beautiful and added a historic feel to the ceremonies. The sun even peeked out occasionally to warm up chilly temperatures.
CNN political analyst David Gergen, who gave the Commencement address, chose to use his time at the podium to deliver a passionate message about state politics, the future of North Carolina and the country as a whole. He encouraged graduates to stand up, be counted and use their energy and talents to lead the country to a better place.
“As you leave here, you will not only want to build careers but families,” Gergen said. “I’m sure most of you will succeed there as well. But I would plead with you not to stay on the sidelines as this state and this country struggle to overcome our differences and reclaim our heritage. Get in the arena, join the fight, serve and lead.”
A native of Durham, North Carolina, Gergen is a former adviser to four American presidents and currently serves as co-director of the Center for Leadership at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy school of government. The longtime friend of Elon University also provides frequent political commentary as a senior political analyst for CNN. He was active in the planning and establishment of the Elon University School of Law, which opened in downtown Greensboro in 2006, and serves as chair of the school’s advisory board.
Gergen also urged students to work hard, find common ground and respect other’s point of view.
“You will get knocked down and there will be severe disappointments,” he said. “Embrace the fact that change is hard. But know this: If you pour your heart and soul into rebuilding a better state and nation, you will look back one day and find an inner satisfaction — a pride that knows no bounds — that you answered the call to service and leadership.”
Gergen’s address to seniors and their families was met with a standing ovation from most in attendance and was one of several highlights in the ceremony that concluded with a reception Under the Oaks, where graduates received Oak saplings to represent their intellectual growth into global citizens.
Elon alumna Jasmine Turner ’15 and Sean Barry, president of the Class of 2016, also addressed the graduates. Turner, a broadcast journalist in Wilmington, North Carolina, said she believed the world is full of people who have a story to share with the world. She hoped the graduates would use their story to propel elon forward.
“Each of you has a story and as I stand before you today, I can say that all of our life stories are connected and that connection is simple: this incredible place, Elon University,” Turner said. “This university is a part of your story and it is up to you to decide on the major or minor role it will play in the rest of your life.”
Barry repeated a story shared by an Elon alum who spoke at an event he attended earlier this month. It was about an ad campaign that Hershey Foods Corporation used in the late 1980s that focused on the idea that “change is bad” because Hershey’s candy was dependable and would never change. The campaign wasn’t successful and was dropped within a year, Barry said.
“This was the perfect thing to hear 18 days before graduation,” he said. “Changing is scary. … But changing is a necessity because without it you can become stagnant and complacent. However, when you embrace change, it can open up a new world of possibilities.”
Barry pointed out that the Class of 2016 has seen a lot of change at Elon, both on the campus and within themselves, since they first arrived four years ago.
“We know what change looks like here at our Elon home, and we have learned to grow beside it,” Barry said. “We welcome change and we have this university to thank for it. Elon has ingrained in us to never be content but rather to always keep rising.”
In his charge to the seniors, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert explained that they live in a time when the world is desperate for thinkers, leaders and consensus builders—all qualifications that Elon graduates possess.
Lambert urged the graduates to carry what is good and special about the university in their hearts and reminded them to support each other for the rest of their lives. He took them back to almost 1,300 days ago—when they were gathered Under the Oaks for New Student Convocation and learned about the great privilege extended to them, an opportunity to receive an extraordinary university education.
“Please remember just two things today as you prepare to depart. First, be grateful. Express our gratitude — with a letter or an embrace — to the many people who helped you achieve,” Lambert said. “Second, know that you now have the power to help those who enjoy many fewer privileges. Use that power in a spirit of generosity and compassion, because that is what Elon people do.”