Largest graduating class in university history celebrates commencement

University trustee Phillip Richards commended Rachel Hall during his commencement speech.

There were two moments during Temple University’s 129th commencement that prompted a standing ovation from the thousands gathered in the Liacouras Center Friday morning.

One was when university trustee Phillip Richards, who received an honorary degree during the ceremony, finished his commencement speech to students gathered on the floor of the arena.

The other was when he gave a shoutout to Rachel Hall, a former lacrosse player who was critically injured on her bike in a hit-and-run accident last April.

“This young lady, hit by a hit-and-run driver over a year ago, in a coma for over a month, given less than 20 percent chance of living by the doctors, is a cut above other heroes,” Richards said in his speech.

Moments later, thousands at the Liacouras Center stood up and applauded Hall, who accepted her diploma in criminal justice and sociology at the College of Liberal Arts’ ceremony on Thursday.

That applause was part of a ceremony in which the university recognized the largest graduating class in the university’s history. This year, 9,341 students graduated at Temple.

Along with Richards, Mari Carmen Aponte, who graduated from the law school in 1975, also received an honorary degree from the university. Aponte currently serves as the U.S. Department of State’s assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs.

President Theobald also addressed students Friday, noting the value of a Temple degree and the university’s accomplishments during the past academic year—from increased research funding to the start of construction on a new library to a successful football season.

Following Theobald’s speech, Faculty Senate President Tricia Jones addressed the students gathered, noting the university’s growth in the late 19th century. When Temple held its first commencement in 1892, 18 students graduated. Two years later, 4,000 graduated, which was more than Harvard at the time.

The student speaker at the ceremony was Yanna Savkona, a senior nursing major from Allentown. She spoke about Temple’s impact on her, and urged students to use their education to better the world around them.

“This is not just a degree, but a decree, a responsibility,” she said. “We answered the call to attend Temple University, and now in graduating, we must answer the call from the rest of the world, to use our knowledge, our Temple made selves to help, whether that’s in Philadelphia, across the nation or across the world.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.

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