A time to reflect and shine: Class of 2024 gathers Under the Oaks for Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate

As they prepare to receive their diplomas on Friday, May 24, Elon's graduating seniors came together for an evening of reflection and inspiration in the heart of Elon's campus.

Gathered Under the Oaks and bathed in candlelight on Tuesday night, members of Elon’s Class of 2024 took time to look back on the journeys that brought them to this point, and to look ahead at what lies before them after they receive their diplomas later this week.

Joined together in this iconic Elon location for Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection, these graduating seniors are preparing to conclude their time as undergraduates at Friday’s Commencement. Their graduation is a bookend to an experience that began with their arrival on campus in August 2020 during the midst of a global pandemic that disrupted the end of their high school careers and the beginning of their time in college. They’ve achieved much during challenging circumstances, and have forged the bonds and developed the skills and knowledge that will support them in the years to come.

Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection for the Class of 2024 held Under the Oaks on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

“You likely feel that you have been a different person every year of college,” Alyssa Martina, who retires this year as executive director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, said Tuesday night. “You likely feel like these years have been filled with some of the most personal growth of your life. Good. And I assure you that this next year will be the same, if not more.”

Since 2022, Elon has hosted the Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection during Commencement Week as a reimagining of the traditional baccalaureate ceremony.The ceremony is a celebration of community, light and achievement that provides an opportunity for reflection on the light students will take into the world. The ceremony’s name echoes Elon’s motto “numen lumen.” which means “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

“What you feel in this space this evening is love,” President Connie Ledoux Book told the graduating class. “Not only the love you have for each other, but the love you have for the journey you have traveled while you’ve been here. … You, Class of 2024, will use your Elon Education to build us a better world. We need your restlessness, your discontent and we need your love as you carry your light into he world.”

Jasper Serenity Myers ’24 reads a selection during Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection for the Class of 2024 held Under the Oaks on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Tuesday night’s ceremony combined readings from religious texts, poetry, nonfiction and other writings with personal reflections by students and musical performances as the Class of 2024 strengthened their connections to each other and to Elon as they prepare to graduate. The passing of the light, with the flame passed from candle to candle among those present, was begun by Elon alumnus Mark Smith ’74, whose class observes its 50th anniversary this year. Alumni circulated through the crowd, helping to spread the light among those who will join the ranks of Elon alumni in just a few days.

Martina, who was introduced by Lars Heidenreich ’24, built her remarks for the graduating seniors around the theme of light and dark, explaining that we are best served living in the space between the two extremes that Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle called the “Golden Mean” as he espoused pursuing nothing in excess.

“Avoid the extremes — Don’t sleep or eat too much or too little,” Martina said. Find balance between work and play. All of the messages of moderation, of avoiding the extremes, hold true. And, I promise you, if you adhere to that principle, you will live a happier, more content life.”

That is particularly important when we consider the polarization that is dominating many areas of public life that can make seeing commonality more challenging, Martina said. Speaking up for what you believe in is important, and we should support the rights of those to protest even if we don’t agree with their beliefs, she said. But that does not extend to the extremes of spewing hatred or making other people feel unsafe.

“I ask you to fight against extremism in our thinking, our judgments, and our interactions,” Martina said. “Keep an open mind. Talk to people not to persuade them but to share your perspective. And listen, truly listen, to theirs. Seek understanding and common ground, walk with decency and compassion. And then ask and expect others to do the same.”

Life can bring instances of fear and failure, Martina said, and while some may view both negatively, they can both dwell within that space of the Golden Mean where they are neither good nor bad, she said. A healthy fear can help protect you and keep you alive, but “one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to learn how to tame fear so it served you and doesn’t sabotage you,” Martina said.

Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection for the Class of 2024 held Under the Oaks on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Likewise, failure does not have to be something that is to be avoided at all costs, she said. “Failure can be your friend. It is only through failure that you can learn to become the very best version of yourself,” Martina said. “No one wants to look back on a life full of Failures. But if you look back on a life without any Failure, I would say that you haven’t really lived. Treat each Failure in your life as a “golden” opportunity to learn.”

The next phase of life that lies ahead may not go as planned, Martina explained, but that’s OK. “Success is not solely found at the top of Mount Everest. It can also be found on middle ground, like the spot were are all gathered under these might oaks,” she said. “Strive to achieve your goals, knowing that the process and people along the way matter more than the destination. Stumble, fall and fail and pick yourself up. Be kind. Be honorable. Be decent. Be hopeful. Be tolerant. Be you. Be golden.”

Tuesday night’s ceremony began with a Greeting of the Drums by musicians Bashir Shakur, Forrest Matthews and Gregor Jones, the first of multiple musical selections shared throughout the night. Vocalists Jamiliyah Ismaiel ’24 and Sivaun Scott ’24 were joined by Gabe Germain ’24 on guitar and Tyson Hankins on piano to perform “Good Old Days” by Macklemore. Later, Germain accompanied vocalists Camille Fundingsland ’24 and Mary Kate McDonald ’24 in their performance of “Hallelujah” by Haim. As candles were being lit, vocalist Mallorie Sievert ’24 sang “Bridge of Light” by P!nk and Billie Mann and was accompanied by Germain on guitar and Hankins on piano.

Each student who read a selection at the ceremony offered remarks about why they picked the selection. Members of the class reading selections Tuesday night were Jillian Shor, Cole Picca, Sonali Schroder, Jasper Serenity Myers, Rachel Curtis, Noah Dyson, Lucy Sneader and Xuan Huynh.

Ginna Claire Mason ’13, who will deliver the main address at Commencement on Friday, hands out oak saplings at Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection for the Class of 2024 held Under the Oaks on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Rev. Kirstin Boswell, university chaplain and dean of multifaith engagement, offered a welcome to the Class of 2024 and noted that this is a time not just to look ahead to next steps, but to look back at treasured memories that will resonate for years to come. Four years ago, each student received an acorn as a new member of the Elon community, and Boswell explained that each would receive an oak sapling at the conclusion of the ceremony to signify how they have grown and will continue to grow in the years ahead. Many Elon alumni were on hand Tuesday night to help distribute the saplings.

“While people continue to grow for the rest of their lives, I hope you continue to love and to grow and that you allow your knowledge and and experience to push the world in ways that perhaps you could only just imagine when you arrived here,” Boswell said.

Emma Grossberg ’24 said she had always heard about the tradition of receiving a sapling and was excited it was now her chance to receive one. “To be actually holding a sapling in your hand is something very special,” Grossberg said.

Student Body President Britt Mobley ’24 speaks during Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection for the Class of 2024 held Under the Oaks on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

The class observed a moment of silence to remember one of their peers, Jackson Yelle ’24, who is no longer with them. Yelle, originally from Massachusettes, died in April 2023 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Also offering remarks to the class was Britt Mobley ’24, who previously served as class president and this year has led the Student Government Association as student body president. “Throughout our journey here, we’ve been guided by the principles of Numen Lumen,” Mobley told his classmates. “These past four years have been a time of growth, learning, and discovery. We’ve faced challenges, celebrated victories, and formed lifelong friendships. As we look ahead to the next chapter of our lives, let’s take a moment to reflect and appreciate the support of the friends who have become family, the faculty who have become mentors, and the institution that has become a home.

“To my fellow graduates, congratulations on reaching this milestone. Let’s embrace this moment with gratitude and excitement as we all prepare to step into this world, making it even brighter than ever before,” he said.

The 134th Undergraduate Commencement for the Class of 2024 is scheduled for Friday, May 24, at 9 a.m. for the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and School of Communications, and 2:30 p.m. for the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education and Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences. The ceremonies will be held in Schar Center.

A full schedule of events and further details can be found on the Commencement website. Both ceremonies will be available to livestream on personal devices