President John Bravman speaks at podium dressed in regalia

‘Grit and Grace’: Commencement Speakers Honor Resilience of Bucknell’s Class of 2020 in Virtual Celebration

July 20, 2020

by Brooke Thames

The online celebration featured video messages from President John Bravman (above), student speaker Brishti Mandal '20, Commencement speaker Carolyn Speer Miles '83 P'14 and others. Emily Paine, Communications

As they prepare to enter the world beyond Bucknell University, the members of the Class of 2020 carry much more than the confident preparedness that a Bucknell degree provides. Emerging from a final semester marked by extraordinary global challenges, these graduates also take with them the pride of overcoming unprecedented obstacles with courage, resilience and resourcefulness.

"These are the qualities of true Bucknellians, and I can't imagine a greater testament to your character, nor a greater predictor of your ability to respond to whatever challenges the future holds for you," President John Bravman said in a special video message created as part of Bucknell's first-ever online Commencement celebration event on July 19.

In early spring, the graduating class' last semester on campus was cut short when Bucknell transitioned to remote education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to ongoing health and safety concerns, the University's 170th Commencement ceremony on Malesardi Quadrangle — originally set for May 17 and postponed until July — was rescheduled for 2021. Intent on honoring the graduates despite physical distance, students, faculty, administrators and alumni came together virtually in a series of pre-recorded messages to praise the tenacity with which the Class of 2020 completed its college journey.

"You and your classmates supported each other from locations across the country and around the world. And together, you succeeded," said Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak in her remarks. "Your ability to adapt with grit and grace tells me that your professors taught you well throughout your Bucknell career. These are the skills, and this is the mindset, that will serve you for a lifetime."

Watch the virtual Commencement celebration:

‘Builders of a Reimagined Tomorrow.’

The provost's words echoed the address given by Commencement speaker Carolyn Speer Miles '83, P'14, former president and chief executive officer of the global humanitarian organization Save the Children. Though the world today looks drastically different from the one they knew four years ago, Miles assured the graduates that stepping into this new reality "will build a resilience and persistence in each of you that few things would have so quickly."

After graduating from Bucknell with a degree in animal behavior, Miles spent a decade working in business for top-tier companies such as American Express in Hong Kong and as an entrepreneur in Asia. It was there where she witnessed the plight of childhood poverty, which inspired her to make an unexpected but impactful pivot to the nonprofit sector — a change that led Miles to become one of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders named by Fortune magazine in 2015.

Reflecting on her 22 years of international work with Save the Children, Miles spoke about the power of education — a privilege denied to many children throughout the world — and issued a prescient question to this year's graduates: "What will you do with this gift in this truly unique time?"

In her address to her peers, student speaker Brishti Mandal '20 offered an answer as she called upon her "family" of friends and classmates to take charge in the social, political and cultural shifts taking place in America and beyond.

"Nourished by our experiences showing up in action, contributing in service, and growing in truth and knowledge, we have become not only leaders but also builders of a reimagined tomorrow," said Mandal, a mechanical engineering major from India whose first day in the United States was also her first day as a Bucknell student.

For Mandal, being a Bucknellian has centered on promoting equity through her many leadership positions on campus, from serving as a lead residential adviser to guiding diversity-focused student retreat Common Ground. Of all the discoveries she's made in four years of exploring at Bucknell, Mandal said the biggest is that "there is no the Bucknellian — there are 900 realities of it every year." And it's this vibrant diversity that will empower the Class of 2020 to "keep disrupting the 'norm' to make space for more, a space that honors and welcomes everyone."

Nearly 900 Graduates

The virtual Commencement event recognized the achievements of nearly 900 graduates (including 51 who completed their studies in January). This year, the University conferred 869 degrees, with 850 students receiving bachelor's degrees and 19 receiving master's degrees. The graduates represent 35 states and 21 nations. Among undergraduates, 559 received degrees in the arts & sciences, 167 received degrees in engineering and 124 received degrees in management.

Also offering well-wishes to the Class of 2020 as part of virtual Commencement were the deans of Bucknell's three colleges; a host of faculty representing academic departments from across the University; and Religious & Spiritual Life Director Kurt Nelson, who delivered a blessing for the class.

See the faculty's encouraging messages to the graduates:

In his closing remarks to Bucknell's newest graduating class, Bravman assured the graduates that although they may now be scattered, they are "united in spirit." Quoting the motto the class crafted at the start of its Bucknell journey, the president also commended the Class of 2020 for its "strive to ignite a spirit of success" through a final semester like none before.

"Your spirit of success guided you through the challenges of the spring," he said. "It will continue to guide you throughout your life."


Watch all Commencement videos, including a Class of 2020 slideshow