With the sun shining bright, Chestnut Hill College celebrated a week like no other in the College’s history as students from the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 all came together to be honored as CHC graduates as part of the College’s 95th Annual Commencement held from May 19th – 21st. Whether the celebration was one, two, or even three years in the making, the spirit and enthusiasm of the Commencement ceremonies was evident among the faces of graduates, family, friends, faculty, and staff.
“It is so exciting to have a Commencement Weekend honoring not only the Class of 2022 but also the Classes of 2020 and 2021, who missed out on in-person celebrations due to COVID,” said Krista Murphy, Ph.D., Dean of Student Life. “It has been 1,103 days since our last on-campus Commencement ceremony and that certainly raises the level of excitement to new levels. We always tell students that the Hill will always be here to welcome you home and that feels all the more true during this season of celebrations.”
A Masterful Ceremony
The festivities started with a celebration of students in the School of Graduate Studies on Thursday, May 19th. In all, 159 students walked in the ceremony, 21 of whom received their Doctorate in Psychology. The ceremony was a combined effort as graduates in the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 all took part in the momentous occasion.
Brandon Ellis, M.S. ’22, offered the student welcome for the SGS Ceremony.
“We are one step closer to achieving the goals we set for ourselves and as we look around and back on where we started, we must keep in mind that we have a responsibility to carry out the mission of Chestnut Hill College, including creating just relationships, committing to innovative thinking, planning seeds and engaging in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion of all people,” Ellis said as he addressed his fellow graduates. “In my work with clients, I say to them, ‘We are legion. We are warriors. We are resilient.’ And as I stand before you here today, at this very moment in our lives, I say to you, ‘We are legion. We are resilient. We are exactly where we are meant to be.’”
In addition to the graduates who received their degrees, Chestnut Hill College was proud to bestow an honorary degree to Megan Maguire Nicoletti, who serves as President of the Maguire Foundation. The Maguire Foundation has helped countless students attend college when the financial means were otherwise not available. In particular, the foundation has helped fund the education of dozens of Chestnut Hill College students, serving as grateful partners through the years.
Offering the Commencement Address was Dr. Kathleen Walls, who was one of the first-ever graduates of CHC’s Doctor of Psychology program. In her time since graduating, Walls has established herself as a pillar of the community, particularly through her role as founder of the G.R.E.A.T.E.S.T. Counseling and Consulting, where she provides therapy, mentoring, and leadership coaching.
Walls reflected on her own experience as a graduate student, as she focused on the words ‘sacred’ and ‘scared’ as well as the impact of each letter in those words and what they meant for the journey all graduates embarked on during their time at Chestnut Hill. S represented sacrifice, A was accountability, C was commitment, R was responsibility, E was empowerment, and finally D represented determination.
“Determination is the firm of fixed intention to achieve the desired end,” Walls said. “It was this determination that pushed you. It pulled you. And it willed you to get to this moment…Today marks the celebration of the promise that you each made to yourself, starting at whatever age you made it.”
Following the conferral of degrees, Sister Carol Jean Vale, President of Chestnut Hill College, reminded the audience of just how significant this accomplishment is. “Only 9.3 percent of Americans have master’s degrees and less than two percent have doctoral degrees. You now breathe rarified air.”
In her concluding remarks, Vale added, “As you leave this campus today, you take with you a special attitude of mind and heart that welcomes the other…I thank you in advance for working as professionals whose practice of your professions will be marked by the hospitality of heart that will leave a lasting and unforgettable impression on every life you touch. You embody the hope the world so desperately needs.”
That was the word that perfectly encapsulated Friday’s ceremony, in which 139 graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 returned to campus to walk across the stage and celebrate their well-deserved moments. The importance of being able to return and be acknowledged for accomplishments was not lost on the graduates or their families and friends in attendance. They say better late than never, and that was truly the case on Friday, May 20th.
“The graduates of '20 and '21 hold a special place in my heart as it was you, through countless demonstrations of courage and hard work, that helped to show the true meaning of the Chestnut Hill College spirit,” Jeffrey Carroll, Ph.D., Chair of the Center for Data & Society and associate professor of political science noted as he offered the Commencement Address that was written by Jacqueline Reich, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and former Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies who was unable to attend in-person. “Today we are here to celebrate your fantastic achievement of finishing college during the COVID pandemic and yes, the celebration is a little late but a late graduation does not take away from our pride in you as you surmounted tremendous obstacles to finish your degrees.”
In the Commencement Address, Reich challenged the graduates to think back on their time as students and the value of their education, and everything they went through in order to persevere. She noted that this was not the typical graduation as the address was going to those who have already been in – and in some cases, graduated from graduate school, who have worked full-time jobs in the career Chestnut Hill College prepared them to embark upon, and who truly as Reich’s words said, “interrupted,” their lives just to return for such a momentous occasion.
Reich was not the only one who expressed just what it meant to come back for this celebration and why so many students decided to do so.
“Whether it has been one year or two since we earned these diplomas, the classes of 2020 and 2021 have had to press on to forge careers, to go to grad school, to go out and to thrive in a tough world,” said Samantha Covais ’20 in her welcome address to her fellow graduates. “Yet we’re drawn back here to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to express our gratitude for this community who has loved us and supported us since we all looked around this beautiful campus and said, ‘yeah, this is where I need to be.’”
Following the speeches was the highlight of the ceremony, the conferral of degrees. While graduates from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 had already received their physical diplomas years ago, it did not deter from just how special a moment it was to see these students walk across the stage while celebrating everything they had achieved not just as students, but in their lives since graduating. And once everyone had crossed that stage and shared smiles, laughs, and tears with family and friends in attendance it was time for the final symbolic moment, the turning of the tassels.
“You have overcome immense obstacles and you have prevailed in the face of multiple disappointments,” said Vale in her closing remarks. “You have chosen to keep your goal before your eyes and to move past disappointments. Throughout the past two-and-a-half years, you have demonstrated grit and determination and returned here today triumphant, ready to celebrate the future for which these tribulations have prepared you. You have grown and changed and met new challenges with tenacity and courage…I am so glad you chose to come back for this belated celebration and so happy we were able to have it for you.”
A Return to Normalcy
As the Class of 2022 made their way down the hill for the final procession of the three-day Commencement event on Saturday, May 21st, there was a sense of normalcy in the air.
For the first time since 2019, Chestnut Hill College was able to celebrate the graduating SUS and AADP classes in the same year in which they graduated. And with that came the return of all the pomp and circumstance and tradition of years past. This included the procession down the front steps in St. Joseph Hall, of which legend has it, students cannot descend prior to their graduation day or else they will not graduate. It is a fun piece of CHC lore that has gone on to spur a beautiful tradition of students walking down the steps on the day of their ceremony. The traditions also included faculty lining the walls outside of Fournier Circle to cheer on the students, and flags being carried by international students and graduating military veterans.
As the procession continued into the Grand Tent, there was nothing but joy and exuberance on the faces of the graduates, their families, and all of the Chestnut Hill College faculty, staff, and administration in attendance.
Cathy Lockyer Moulton, BA ’92, MS ’22, Chair of the Board of Directors, offered an inspiring welcome.
“Harriet Tubman once said, ‘every great dream begins with a dreamer.’ Always remember that you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. You have all arrived at this moment thanks to the dream that you’ve held onto, especially when things seemed uncertain. The dreams of today are the beginnings of new realities for a better world that is yet unseen. Although you have attained this goal, the completion of your degree, do not let go of that larger dream for a better future, a future for yourself, your family, your community, and yes, one that will ultimately benefit the world.”
Gianna Vassulluzzo ’22 offered the welcome on behalf of her fellow graduates in the Class of 2022. While Vassulluzzo talked about her experiences and the moments that made her time at Chestnut Hill so special, the heart of her message was about gratitude.
“I thank the College and take this opportunity to give a special thanks to our faculty, staff, and surrogate moms away from home – the Sisters of Saint Joseph who have dedicated their lives to our spiritual and educational growth,” Vassulluzzo said. “It is with the utmost, respectful gratitude that I thank each of you on behalf of our graduating class for sharing so much of yourselves with us and allowing us to learn what we are truly capable of. Success may be defined in many ways, but today our collective success is as members of the Chestnut Hill College Class of 2022.”
Following the welcomes, Chestnut Hill College was proud to bestow honorary degrees on three extraordinary individuals. Anne Myers, SSJ, Ph.D., Rhonda Resnick Cohen, and Ambassador David L. Cohen were honored for their work both in Philadelphia and beyond, as well as their support of the College over the years. Ambassador Cohen offered the Commencement Address.
After opening with a joke, the ambassador encouraged graduates to turn around and clap to thank their families and friends, and anyone else who helped them get through college and who supported them on the journey. Cohen then turned his attention to the graduates and offered a few pieces of advice.
“Let your passion be your guide, and be sure to have some fun while you’re at it,” Cohen said. “Take advantage of the opportunities life brings your way, but don’t be reluctant to create opportunities of your own. Make your own choices. Create your own options. Don’t just deal with the choices that others present to you. Take your lead from Sister Carol’s leadership. There’s no mountain too high to scale. Don’t let anyone tell you that a goal of yours is unattainable. Get out there with nothing less than the audacious goal to change the world. That’s what your Chestnut Hill College training is all about.”
The ceremony continued as other medals and awards were presented prior to the conferral of degrees. In all, 231 graduates from the schools of Undergraduate Studies and the Accelerated Adult Degree Program walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Not to be forgotten, as the three-day celebration of three years of Chestnut Hill College alumni ended, there was one final person to be recognized. Celebrating her final Commencement as President of Chestnut Hill College, Sister Carol Jean Vale was honored with the distinct title of President Emerita in recognition for all of her many accomplishments that have helped the College succeed and thrive over these last 30 years.
“This year, the Board of Directors endeavored to identify a means by which to recognize a President of a college who has served with distinction beyond the ordinary call of duty and outside the description of the role for which she or he is hired,” said Moulton as she spoke on behalf of her colleagues. "We created an addition to the bylaws that allows us to quote, ‘recognize a Chestnut Hill College president, who has provided outstanding, distinguished, and extended service to the College community with the purpose being to keep her or him affiliated with the College, maintaining a special relationship with her or him and expressing gratitude for service to the College.’”
And it was Sister Carol, who offered the parting words for all graduates in the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 to live by, saying, “So go forth from here today, holding hope high and believing because you have experienced it, that an active, inclusive love for every kind of Dear Neighbor without distinction will change the world. Griffins, your time here has run out. It’s time to fly, soar!”
- Marilee Gallagher '14