Shippensburg University’s Summer 2020 Commencement was all about perspective.

The event was restricted to a “drive-in” ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was unlike any other commencement in the university’s 149-year history. Cars holding 2020 graduates and their families packed into two large commuter parking lots on the university campus to celebrate the important milestone.

Shippensburg University President Dr. Laurie Carter, Chairman of the SU Board of Trustees Michael Ross, and Class of 2020 graduate and former student government president Aven Bittinger spoke to the graduates. Each speech was met with the sound of car horns mixed with applause.

Carter’s speech referenced a quote she gave to SU graduates just 7 months prior during the December 2019 commencement, “Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” 

She recognized that the current social and economical strife are undisputedly imperfect, but if they have the right perspective, they can use their newly-earned college degree to tackle those conditions head-on.

Carter likened the circumstances to an Olympic medal stand, saying that bronze medalists are often happier with their medal than those that win silver. 

“You heard that right, third place is happier than second place,” she said. “The reason is that the bronze medalist’s reference point is gratitude that they were not left off the platform. They looked back at all the others that did not make it, while the silver medalist was looking up to the unattained gold medal position. The silver medalist’s reference point sapped the joy and celebration of an incredible accomplishment.”

She continued, “Won’t you take the imperfect conditions of the moment and stand on that bronze platform? Even in this volatile time, your degree is a good beginning. You are more prepared to weather the economic challenges of today.” 

Bittinger, who also served as a board member on the PASSHE Board of Governors, spoke on behalf of students Saturday.

“Everyone here has a pretty big role in this world,” Bittinger said. “It’s no secret that there are some challenges in our country and in this world that we face as we continue our path in life. In this era, leadership seems to be in short supply when it is needed most. From the racial injustices throughout our nation to the economic turmoil experienced by so many families brought on by this pandemic. It is times like this that we may just want to close our eyes and wish we were born in a different generation, but as the late John Lewis said, ‘We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.’ With our education, let’s leave the world better than we’ve found it by being leaders in our field who work together to solve these complex problems. I have full confidence in our ability to succeed, because it’s not just the right way, it’s the Raider way and facing these kinds of challenges comes easy when you are a Shippensburg Raider.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, graduates had an opportunity to exit their vehicle and walk across the stage while practicing social distancing.

Family members were able to join them for photos or stay in their car and watch the entire ceremony via live stream.

Afterward, Carter spoke about the importance of celebrating commencement and thanked everyone who helped put the event together.

“I understand how important graduation is for students and their families. They spend a lifetime planning for this moment, and to not have this moment - especially in the midst of a pandemic - was just not the right thing to do,” she said. “You can see from the response of folks, even though we’re a few months late and were outside, this moment is really a pivotal one in the life of a student, and I think it turned out really well. I could not be more proud of my team for the work they did pulling it together.”

The ceremony looked very different than what Bittinger envisioned when he first enrolled at Shippensburg. But from his perspective, he couldn’t be more grateful.

“I am tremendously proud and grateful for our university working together to make something like this happen. It was a hit and honestly it’s better than nothing, so I was very grateful and honored to be a part of the ceremony,” he said.

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