More than 6,000 graduates took their seats together at Citizens Bank Park June 11 to be a part of Drexel University’s first University wide commencement in 20 years.
“It is one inspiring sight to see so much of the Drexel community gathered in one place,” President John A. Fry said in his opening speech.
Although the sun created a blanket of heat over the audience with the temperature near 85 degrees, it could not melt smiles off of the graduates who proudly took their final steps as Drexel students. As each major walked the field of Citizens Bank Park, large cheers filled the stadium. The voices of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends unified all those who took different academic paths to reach the same goal of earning a Drexel diploma.
The commencement began with a prayer by Elder Gregory Johnson. He extended his congratulations, but made a point to mention more work that lies ahead.
“Celebration can only last for a moment because the work lies at the door of us all waiting for our exit,” he stated.
After a prayer from Johnson, President Fry took his turn at the podium to express how proud he was of the graduates. He wanted to make a point that he was not speaking to children about to go out into the real world but was expressing the fact that they have known the real world for many years.
“You have been out in the real world since the day you arrived on campus, building your professional careers and building a better society,” Fry explained. President Fry’s speech was filled with praise towards the graduates and his hope that they continue to contribute to society as they go into their professional careers.
Soon after President Fry spoke, the President of Drexel’s Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA), James Gordon, took time to discuss the memories students may have formed with the Drexel community.
“College was more than just striving for success. It was late nights at the library, cheering as part of the DAC Pack, standing through Spring Jam in the pouring rain every single year, putting off your homework for weekend ski trips, infamous Powelton parties, dodging cars on Chestnut Street because we refuse to walk that extra twenty feet to the crosswalk, and of course, sledding down the art museum steps on dining hall trays, trash can lids, or whatever you could find,” Gordon said.
He ended his speech asking the graduates to promise that they will live without regrets and take chances to try new things in order to live life in the best way possible.
Laila Abdallah, President of the Graduate Student Association, followed up with a different approach. She took the time to give praise to those who helped the graduates get to this point as well as those who had helped her herself.
“Today, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Here is to all the parents, families, mentors, coworkers, partners and everyone who has helped us reach this point,” Abdallah expressed.
Abdallah then went into a brief story about her family in regards to the difficulty each member had in trying to earn a degree. Due to the adversities that came their way, Abdallah was the first in her family to earn a diploma in 2013.
Abdallah ended her speech with a quote by Cesar Chavez: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community … Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own,” she said. She ended with this quote in hopes that the graduates will contribute to make the world a better place for all.
Later in the commencement, Donna Shalala, the guest of honor, began by taking a selfie with the graduates. Once those in attendance finished laughing, she began to speak. Her speech, despite containing serious moments, was very lighthearted and playful. She relayed a time when a student of hers gave an interesting answer on the subject of Socrates.
“Socrates was a famous teacher who went around trying to give people advice. They poisoned him,” she recounted.
She used this memorable moment in her life to segue into giving advice to the Drexel graduates. Rather than using a typical method, however, she chose to use lessons from Star Wars.
“Identify what is important to you and have the courage to stand up for your values,” she said, alluding to the first. “While you should remain true to your values, you should always be ready for a plot twist.”
“Expect the unexpected,” was lesson two. Followed by lesson three that “there is strength in diversity.”
Shalala’s fourth and final lesson that she explained was: “Everyone here has the power within yourself to change the world.”
Her speech also conveyed the need of being accepting of yourself and others in order to provide change throughout the world.
Once all the speeches had concluded, it was finally time for the conferral of degrees.
There were one to two representatives that came up to accept the degree on behalf of all the students that earned it within each major. When graduates from a major were recognized, students stood to their feet to be acknowledged. The camera traveled through the crowd to show all the smiling faces and the many colored cords draped over students’ graduation robes.
This first University wide commencement in 20 years was more than just a celebration of Drexel’s 125th year; it allowed the graduates to enjoy one last moment together as Drexel Dragons.