Temple University held its 135th commencement ceremony at The Liacouras Center Thursday morning, marking the first time that students were able to attend a university-wide graduation in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ceremony featured speeches from President Jason Wingard, honorary degree recipients Ken Frazier, the executive chair and former CEO of Merck, a pharmaceutical company, and Dawn Staley, former head coach of Temple University women’s basketball, student speaker Tyler Ray, Provost Gregory Mandel and representatives from each school and college.
In his opening remarks, Wingard discussed the resiliency and grit of the graduates, despite unprecedented circumstances throughout the year.
“You’re here, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, in spite of the mental health epidemic, in spite of the gun violence epidemic, in spite of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Roe v. Wade debate, in spite of your independence and personal struggles, whatever they may be,” Wingard said.
Following the City of Philadelphia, Temple removed its mask mandate for most indoor spaces on April 22, meaning masks are optional at commencement ceremonies.
Following Wingard’s speech, Mandel described the graduates as having unmatched perseverance throughout the last two years.
“When you go through something as difficult as we have been going through, it strengthens your bonds and builds community,” Mandel said.
Rafael Porrata-Doria, a law professor, described how the graduates will be remembered for their ability to hone their crafts throughout the pandemic, and how their skills will put them in high demand in the workforce.
“Despite quarantine and isolation, you learned time management, you learned critical thinking, you learned initiative,” Porrata-Doria said.
Being able to have an in-person, university-wide ceremony meant a lot to Venessa Sleiman, a nursing major and first-generation college student, because it allowed her to celebrate her parents for their help.
“It was a joint effort to get to this point, and the fact that they can come is really rewarding,” Sleiman said. “Not only like that, I did it, but they did it too.”
In his speech, Ray, who earned a bachelor’s degree in community development and historic preservation, described how students have experienced many hardships within the last two years, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the fatal shooting of a Temple student and the increase of violence in Philadelphia.
“All dark times have beacons of light at the end, and if the societal turmoil over the last two years didn’t stop us, nothing can,” Ray said.
Following Ray’s speech, Frazier received an honorary degree from the university and explained that the world is at a crucial turning point in balancing technological and medical advancements and social inequalities.
“We need your fresh perspectives, your hearts and your creative minds,” Frazier said. “In short, the world needs you.”
Staley also received an honorary degree from the university and explained that she’s proud to serve as a role model to students before their degrees were conferred.
“I’m also extremely proud to stand here as a model for young people who falsely believe where they’re from limits where they can go,” Staley said.
Staley said that graduates’ will be measured by their effort and determination.
“Life doesn’t come with instructions,” Staley said. “What it does come with, however, is a series of trials and errors that afford you the opportunity to learn, to build and to grow.”