Members of the ‘unstoppable’ Class of 2022 close a chapter in their Elon careers

More than 1,500 were invited to participate in Elon's 132nd Undergraduate Commencement on Friday, May 20, in the Schar Center.

Nothing has stopped Elon University’s Class of 2022. So much has been thrown in the way of these students, but they have continued marching forward and achieving much. 

And on Friday, May 20, more than 1,500 students from the Class of 2022 walked across the stage of Alumni Gym to receive their diplomas from President Connie Ledoux Book, unwavering in their determination and resilience. It was a commencement celebration to cap off an unanticipated and unprecedented undergraduate experience.

“In this new world, we are less certain. But we are more capable. We are more confident and whatever the world plans on handing us, we are going to conquer it,” Book said to the graduates. “That’s why I call you the ‘Unstoppable Class of 2022.’ No matter how uncertain the world is, you are strong, you’re capable, compassionate and you are never ever alone.”

With Commencement celebrated in two ceremonies – the Martha & Spencer Love School of Business and School of Communications at 9 a.m., and the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education and Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, at 2 p.m. – the excitement lasted all day long.

With 43 states and territories and 26 countries represented, Class of 2022 is one of the more diverse graduating classes in Elon history. With 731 students graduating with honors and 136 students graduating Summa Cum Laude, the Class of 2022 is also one of the most decorated. Ninety-two students of the recent graduates are siblings of current Elon students or alumni, 27 are the children or grandchildren of alumni and 130 are the first in their families to attend college.

In their time at Elon, the Class of 2022 have been engaged global citizens, conducted innovative undergraduate research and grew to better understand their community through service learning. Although on Friday, their Elon careers came to an end, but the lessons learned and values instilled in them will continue long after they leave.

In her commencement address to the graduates, celebrated author and speaker Hilary Corna ’07 urged them to forge their own paths ahead instead of following in the footsteps of previous generations of college students who haven’t endured the “most colossal shift in the last century.”

“The truth is … you are best suited for the challenges of this world. You are disembarking this university onto a blank slate. It’s an untouched canvas. This world will transform because of your leadership,” Corna said. “I believe your greatest ability will be to create a path and existence so unique that it becomes impossible for anyone else to replicate. This will be your ultimate success.”

Corna created her own path, vastly different than the one she thought was pre-planned for her. As an undergraduate, Corna was a Business Fellow and graduated with dual degrees in international business and Asian Pacific Studies with a minor in Japanese – well on her way to the life she thought she was supposed to lead. “Get a corporate job, move to Charlotte and find a husband to settle down with.”

Yet, deep down, she knew that something more significant was in her future and it was a study abroad trip to Japan in her junior year that catalyzed her to vary from the script. “This is how my truly unique path began. I dumped my boyfriend, sold my car and with $2,000 in my pocket, I bought a one-way ticket to Singapore without a job,” Corna said. “I found one, though, at Toyota as the first female to do kaizen and process improvement throughout Asia.

“Many years later, I was back in the States, wrote a bestselling book and started speaking at universities across the globe because I didn’t experience female speakers on campus. I started a podcast and now I coach C-suite leaders for multimillion-dollar companies. This adulting thing, it’s not so bad after all,” Corna told all 1,500 members of the Class of 2022.

The 2013 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni recipient wrote her first book, “One White Face,” a nonfiction account of her time abroad, in 2011, and her second book, “UNProfessional: A Manifesto,” will be published this year and takes its name from her podcast.

As she offered insights into what life for the new graduates might look like in the years ahead, Corna encouraged the Class of 2022 to be original thinkers. They should not only to develop their own ideas and thoughts about the world, but have the courage to share them with the world.

“Admire yourself today – not for what you’ve done but for who you have become,” Corna said in closing. “And for who you will become. Because I see you, we all see you. Your life story that has never been told, and will never be written again, is only just beginning.”

During her charge to the graduates, President Book referred to the New Student Convocation for the Class of 2022 on a hot August Saturday in 2018 Under the Oaks that was her first as Elon’s president. During every convocation, Book does a “human bar graph,” having students stand to illustrate how many students have the opportunity to go to college, what type of college and how many students eventually graduate from college.

Ultimately, one student at New Student Convocation sitting in the first chair stands to represent the few in the world who are fortunate to attend a residential college, like Elon.

“It’s a live event, so we don’t know in advance who will be sitting in that chair. So, my notes have a blank line. That morning, as I was reviewing my remarks, I was struggling with that blank line. To help me practice, I went ahead and penciled a name in – Jacob,” Book said.

“Lo and behold, unbelievably, with hundreds of possibilities, it was Jacob in that first chair on that hot morning.” Four years later, Book asked Jacob Ostria ’22, a project management graduate from Tampa, Florida, to stand again. This time, she asked everyone – graduates, faculty, staff, families, friends – to stand if they would lend a helping help to Ostria, or any Elon student, if called upon.

Without hesitation, the thousands seated in the Schar Center stood up showing vast support system that all members of the Elon community have at their disposal.

“This is a powerful miracle,” Book said. “We are ‘Elon’ – Hebrew for ‘oak.’ Our beautiful oak trees that remind us that we are strong and deeply rooted in the values of honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect.”

Class President Liam O’Connor tapped into the dual traditions of the acorn and the oak sapling in his remarks as he took his fellow students back through all they have experienced during the past four years. New Elon students receive an acorn in their first days on campus at New Student Convocation, and then four years later receive an oak sapling as graduating seniors, a symbol of how they have changed and grown.

For the Class of 2022, the four-year college experience turned out a little differently than for many previous classes, with their years at Elon marked by hurricanes, floods, a mumps outbreak and then a global pandemic that upended their lives. “We didn’t get the college careers that were advertised in the mail we received in high school,” O’Connor said. “We were baptized by fire and told to grow faster and adapt more than any class before. And now, look at where we are today.”

But through it all, the “soil” of Elon helped nourish their growth, O’Connor said. “As we started to grow, we spread roots, … and before we knew it, our roots began to stretch and create a network — meeting fellow classmates, joining organizations and taking on responsibilities. Our roots were able to thrive in this Elon soil.”

As a cohort that has endured, the Class of 2022 now prepares to leave the soil of Elon having grown stronger than they had thought possible, he said. “Hold on to a little bit of this Elon soil and share it wherever you transplant yourself,” O’Connor said. “Remember the roots you have grown in this Elon soil. … Go mess around and change the world.”

Associate University Chaplain Julie Tonnesen ’14 opened both ceremonies with an invocation with Alexa Lugo ’22 and Sarah Poythress ’22 performing vocal musical selections. Commencement was coordinated by Cultural & Special Programs and made possible by significant operational support from Facilities Maintenance and Campus Safety & Police, as well as volunteers from offices, departments and programs across campus who all worked throughout the day to make the event special.

Friday’s commencement ceremonies capped a week of gatherings and celebrations for the Class of 2022, including the Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection held Under the Oaks on Tuesday night, where students received their oak saplings, and a Senior Celebration in Rhodes Stadium on Wednesday. On Thursday, Latinx students were recognized at the annual “¡Celebremos!: Graduates Take Flight” and at Donning of the Kente, a ceremony that celebrates the achievements of students who recognize their African heritage. Earlier in May, the Gender & LGBTQIA hosted the Lavender Graduation and Awards celebration to honor student excellence. Schools, departments and organizations across the campus also hosted their own events to applaud these graduating students and all they have accomplished since arriving on campus in 2018.