Aja Walker '24

PHOTO: Submitted by Aja Walker. 

Many in the class weren't able to experience full-scale graduations in high school due to COVID

The walk across the stage during commencement is one of the highlights of any student's experience. After years of hard work and sacrifice, the moment in the spotlight is a celebratory release.

For most of Alvernia University's Class of 2024, it was extra special.

About two-thirds of the 600-plus students — and one service dog — honored during Alvernia's commencement Saturday at Santander Arena graduated high school in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic made holding large-scale ceremonies all but impossible. Schools adapted as best they could, but the makeshift events, coming as they did after months of additional missed milestones, felt empty — quite literally, in some cases.

"I remember walking down an empty gym and then walking across a stage with no one really being in there. It was all recorded and just didn't feel real," said Aja Walker of Bear, DE, who received a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Science during Alvernia's ceremony. "But walking across the stage to graduate from Alvernia was overwhelming and such an accomplishing experience. I felt the love and appreciation more than I ever could have expected. Graduation is one of the best experiences a person can go through and I’m glad I was able to complete my journey."

Arriving at Alvernia in July 2019, Glynis A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., has led this cohort of students since their initial steps on campus, first as provost and senior vice president before becoming the university's eighth president in July 2023.

Like the final months of the group's high school careers, the initial months of college were trying, but social distancing felt like a distant memory during commencement.

"When we first met this class, masks hid our faces, and safety protocols kept us apart," Fitzgerald said. "As we've come to know each student's story of resilience and perseverance, getting together in one ceremony, seeing each individual smile as the students cross the stage, fills us all with genuine joy."

Fitzgerald greeted students mid-stage after their names were read. A few quick photos with their new diplomas followed. The ritual was over almost as soon as it began for each graduate, but those 10 seconds will be burned in their memories.

"Finally walking across that stage felt like nothing else I have ever experienced," said Ciena Schoch of Blakeslee, PA, who received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing during the ceremony. "While I missed my high school graduation due to COVID, I was able to live this amazing honor at Alvernia, which has provided me the most amazing opportunities. It was hard to take it all in during that moment, but I am excited to spend the next few months starting the professional life Alvernia prepared me to begin."

Amanda Hill '24

PHOTO: Amanda Hill is congratulated by Alvernia President Glynis A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., during the university's commencement at Santander Arena.


The walk was perhaps the sweetest for Amanda Hill of Reading. A physical disability left the biology major bedridden at 16, forcing her to experience the rest of high school online. But she persevered through grueling physical therapy sessions to get in shape to walk at her high school graduation.

"I pushed myself, I pushed myself ... and then I graduated in my car," Hill said before the ceremony. "So this is the first time that I will actually physically be able to walk during graduation and I'm so excited."

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