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A Virtual New Beginning

Posted June 1, 2020 at 10:53 am

The original column appeared in the Tribune-Democrat , written by Dr. Steve Nunez. Click here to see original sourced column. 

To me, the most exciting moment at the college each year is the May commencement ceremony.

It is a celebration of the accomplishments of our graduates, where we recognize the hard work and dedication that is required to earn a credential. It is notable that the word “commencement” means “beginning” and not “ending,” as you might expect.

It explains why so many commencement speeches include phrases such as “this is only the beginning of your journey” or “this is the beginning of an exciting, challenging, rewarding phase of your life.” Education is about a means to an end, not the end.

I’ve been in higher education for 24 years and I have always enjoyed watching students walk across the stage at graduation, with family members hooting and hollering for their loved ones as they receive their diplomas. As an academic leader, I often had the opportunity to shake each graduate’s hand and wish them a hearty congratulations; both of us smiling uncontrollably in the moment.

Many times, spouses, children, sisters or brothers would be waiting for them at the end of the stage to personally congratulate and embrace their loved ones as they held their newly attained diplomas. It is quite the spectacle and I loved every moment of it.

As you might expect, commencement at Penn Highlands in 2020 was, well, much different. This year, with the help of talented and dedicated employees at the college, commencement was held virtually on May 15. The ceremony was reduced in scope with only a few of us speaking, but most importantly, we read the names of all 362 of our graduates.

And while the ceremony was divorced from the hooting and hollering that I’m so used to and adore, it was still our privilege to orchestrate a ceremony for our graduates.

Graduates were also informed that they could come to campus to drive by and grab their well-earned diplomas. More than 250 students visited us over several days with most coming with friends and family to celebrate their accomplishments along with our masked staff who handed them their diplomas through car windows.

And while it wasn’t commencement, it was great to see the smiling faces of so many of our graduates.

And so, we celebrate new beginnings for our graduates. I hope that they understand that this is not the end of their education, but that they will be reeducating and reinventing themselves throughout their lives.

Perhaps they will earn more advanced degrees – or maybe they will partake in additional on-the-job training – or maybe they will take music lessons to learn to play an instrument. Education is more than just training for a profession – it can bring enjoyment, color, and texture to life.

I am proud that Penn Highlands served our graduates well during this time in their lives.

To all of our local graduates who missed out on so much of the pomp and circumstance, fun and excitement, and graduation parties – here’s to you!

I hope you take full advantage of your education and move forward boldly into the future.

Written By Dr. Steve Nunez, College’s Fifth President. This monthly series appears in The Tribune-Democrat, and will allow Dr. Nunez to provide his perspective on the value of education and of a community college.