To deliver an in-person graduation experience for its Classes of 2020 and 2021, La Salle University had to think big, get creative, and go where no other college or university had gone before: Lincoln Financial Field.
La Salle brought the spirit of 20th and Olney to 11th and Pattison on Saturday, May 15, mounting separate celebrations for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 at the South Philadelphia football stadium.
The Commencement ceremonies, which were also livestreamed, were the first ever to be held at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. They also marked La Salle’s first off-campus Commencement since 1996, when the University conferred degrees at the former Philadelphia Civic Center in University City.
In accordance with public safety guidelines from the City of Philadelphia and Lincoln Financial Field, La Salle’s nearly 3,100 graduates and 9,000 guests in attendance for the two ceremonies were spaced throughout the stands of the 70,000-seat stadium. Students made their way in a procession across the field to the stage, where they were greeted by President Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D. The socially distanced seating arrangements were a reminder of the difficult road both graduating classes have been forced to navigate throughout the pandemic. As Class of 2021 student speaker Nicholas Puleo, ’21, remarked, the pandemic presented an opportunity to show up for each other in challenging times.
“Together and by association, we reaffirmed our faith in each other, in God, and in our Lasallian community,” said Puleo, a communications major.
President Hanycz mentioned the bonds formed among classmates and expressed hope that they would remain strong as members of the Class of 2021 moved forward with their lives.
“Do whatever you can to sustain your relationships,” she said. “My hope is that you dance at each other’s weddings, that you travel to visit one another as you scatter to the four corners of the world, that you proudly stand as godparents for each other’s children, and, best of all, that you continue to love one another as deeply in your lives after La Salle as you have come to love one another here.”
Gloriously sunny skies served as the backdrop for the Class of 2021 ceremony, at which Labcorp chairman and CEO Adam Schechter, ‘86, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. The ceremony also included the presentation of the 2021 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award to Jennifer Kleinow, Ph.D., a professor of communication sciences and disorders and chair and graduate director of the department of communication sciences and disorders at La Salle.
That sun-splashed setting gave way to clouds and a whipping wind for the Class of 2020 Commencement. For the graduates and their guests, who had waited a year to celebrate in person, not even the most-inclement weather would have detracted from the occasion.
The ceremony was, at once, cathartic, joyous and moving in honoring the nearly 1,600 graduates in the Class of 2020. Citing last year’s virtual commencement, President Hanycz likened Saturday’s ceremony to the graduating class’ first reunion. Student speaker Taylor Kauffman, ’20, followed, and detailed her transformative experience at La Salle.
“My mind, my spirit, and my soul have matured and grown, and been changed for the better,” said Kauffman, who earned degrees in accounting and finance from La Salle and currently attends Temple University’s law school. “I met people who didn’t look like me, act like me, or think like me. I took classes that challenged my preconceived notions and ingrained beliefs. I got comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics, and I began thinking about issues larger than myself and my experiences.”
Biology professor Rhonda Hazell, DPM, was honored with the 2020 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award. Philadelphia college basketball legend Fran Dunphy, ’70, the ceremony’s honorary degree recipient, emphasized the importance of selflessness.
“The next step for (these graduates) is to do good, any chance you get,” said Dunphy, a star for the 1968-69 Explorers who went 23-1 and who currently serves as acting director of athletics at Temple University. “Think about others, constantly. Make their life better. It will make you happier. And it will make the world better.”
As the ceremony ended, La Salle Alumni Association president Mike Hallowell, ’86, evoked happy memories when he revealed an ice sculpture of La Salle’s logo that he first debuted at last year’s virtual Commencement ceremony. While acknowledging the sculpture looked a little worse for wear, Hallowell emphasized its resiliency, drawing a parallel to the Class of 2020.
“It survived, and it’s stronger for the end,” said Hallowell. “Just like each and every one of you.”