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Penn College holds graduation ceremony

President Davie Jane Gilmour hands a diploma to a Michael A. McJunkin, of Muncy, who received an Associate of Arts in Studio Arts, at one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies.

This year has been one of change and innovation and the combined commencement at The Pennsylvania College of Technology for the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters was certainly indicative of creative adaptation.

Held over the course of three days, a total 512 students received their diplomas divided into five ceremonies held throughout each day in order to accommodate mitigation measures due to the current pandemic.

Plans for the graduation ceremonies began almost immediately when schools were shutdown in March for in-person instruction.

“People said we could do it virtually and we real early on said, no, that’s not us,” said Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Penn College’s president, discussing how the decision to have multiple ceremonies was made.

“We’re applied technology, hands-on education, and we really wanted to give our students the face-to-face graduation opportunity,” she added.

Gilmour explained that the college had originally planned to do all the graduations in August in the Community Arts Center. At that point the gathering size was 250 people inside. She said they decided to divide the graduates into groups and have multiple ceremonies.

“We had that all figured out. Then the new regulations came out and the inside requirement was 25 people and the 250 was outside. We had to make some changes,” Gilmour said. “So we made the decision to do it for everybody.”

So, that was when it was decided to have 15 ceremonies, five a day for three days. For each ceremony, 50 graduates were invited and they could bring two guests. Faculty and staff that usually attend were not present in order to keep the numbers within 250 persons. The event was also livestreamed for those who were not able to attend to watch.

Gilmour said they put the idea out to students, and they “turned out in droves.”

Because some of the spring graduates had already started their post-graduate plans, the combined number of graduates was less than the normal 700 who would have attended had all of the students been available.

The ceremonies took place on the Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center Mall, an outdoor venue, which Gilmour said had been decorated to give students the full commencement experience.

The event was not without its hazards, though, as at one point there was a thunder storm and the rain blew out the Jumbotron. The heat on one day was so intense that the podium was so hot that it had to be iced before anyone could touch it while giving a speech to the graduates.

In spite of those and other mishaps, such as attacks by bees and dragonflies, Gilmour said, “It was amazing. It was so much fun.”

“The best part was the reaction from the students and the parents. I hand sanitized between every graduate and wore my mask. Nobody complained. We temperature-checked everybody who attended, parents and students. Everybody wore their masks. The graduates were six feet apart, socially distanced. The families were outside six feet apart. Students were given the opportunity to fist bump, elbow bump, shake my hand, do whatever they wanted, no contact and we just had a great time,” she said.

Alexandra D. Petrizzi, of Langhorne, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, delivered the student address.

Petrizzi focused her message on perseverance and adaptability, telling her classmates, “We are always going to have challenges thrown our way, even when we least expect it.”

“We have persevered to make it this far and for that we should be proud of ourselves. It takes a lot of perseverance to be successful,” she added.

Referring to the challenges of the current health crisis Petrizzi said, “When the world threw a national pandemic at us, we adapted. When our classes moved to online learning, we adapted.”

“The point is I believe we have all adapted and persevered to get to where we are today. I hope we all continue doing so because I believe we are all capable of succeeding,” she said.

“History has found us and now it’s our time to make a difference,” she added.

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