President Hawkinson's Message to the Class of 2020

It is with great pride that I speak to the Spring 2020 graduates of Kutztown University.  While we will be holding a face-to-face commencement ceremony in the fall, I want to pass on congratulations to you, our students, your families, as well as our faculty, staff, and friends of the university.  Despite dealing with great adversity, you all have come together and preserved in bringing this semester to a successful conclusion, as evidenced by nearly 1,400 having earned their degree. 

It is said that God throws us into deep waters, not to drown us, but to cleanse us.  And we are reminded that a plane takes off against the wind, where it can soar to great heights.  All of you have been cleansed by the struggle of the past few months and have reached new heights in your educational achievement.  Only about a third of the American population has earned a bachelor’s degree, 11% a masters, and 2% a doctorate.  All citizens of our country perform an important role in the prosperity of our nation – this was very evident in the pandemic as people from all walks of life have been showing great resolve and courage in dealing with this crisis – but to go to college and earn a college degree is a special accomplishment that took years of study, dedication, and hard work to master the curriculum of your chosen field to a level established by your professors.  Attaining your college degree has prepared you for life-long learning and I encourage you to never stop digging deeper and going broader in the understanding of your discipline.  To the graduate students, I say welcome into the community of scholars – you have moved from those who take in knowledge, to those who create new knowledge. 

It has now been nearly two months since my message went out to our university community announcing the many changes we had undertaken to move nearly all our functions online or through some form of virtual communication. All our offices remained open and we continued to serve our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the broader community to the best of our ability.  Be assured that people worked around the clock to continue our services and fulfill our mission of providing a college education to you, our students.

I fully understand that there were barriers and we did everything we could to break down these impediments and provide the best possible service and education under these circumstances.

I have witnessed the acts of numerous individuals – faculty, staff, students, others in our community – who performed their duties with professionalism and competence.  Many of our students had to learn new technologies and adjust to different teaching techniques – while it was very difficult, our students will have come out of this experience with new skills and abilities. 

Our wonderful faculty transitioned 1,767 face-to-face classes to some form of online technology.  They did this quickly – just over a week.  They continued to refine their classes and teaching methods as the weeks passed.  Our faculty displayed a calm fortitude in working to continue to maintain standards while allowing flexibility and compassion for those students who may have been struggling. 

Many employees, who were considered essential employees, bravely came to work to maintain our campus infrastructure and ensure our campus was clean and safe. Volunteers on campus handled the many phone calls and emails that came in each hour.  Our IT employees tirelessly supported our faculty and students throughout this period. They also manually reprograming many hundreds of laptop computers to be loaned to our students. Housing and Dining personnel attended to the many needs of students who, because of their unique circumstances, remained on our campus.  Our Health Center professionals continued to take care of the needs of our students.

These are just a few examples of the dedication and professionalism of the members of our community. It is the contributions of these many people, and the support of all of you – our students – that led to the successful conclusion to this semester. 

Many of you have heard me speak of the purpose of higher education -- I believe that college exists to awaken young people, to make them curious, to build character, and to instill a humility and a gratefulness that will serve them all their lives.

We don’t know with any certainty what the future will bring with regard to this pandemic but our shared experiences over these last few months have certainly awakened us, made us curious and aware of the world around us, most certainly built our character, these experiences instilled a humility in us in learning that there are some things that we can control and some things that we can’t control, and a gratefulness in our perseverance and our accomplishments.

And it is your accomplishment that brings me before you today. You did it. You now possess an undergraduate or graduate degree. 

As you now go into the future remember “most of us spend a lot of time dreaming of the future, never realizing that a little of it arrives each day.”

And on that note, I hope you enjoy your passage into the future. Be sure to occasionally stop and enjoy the view – but stay focused and don’t linger too long. You have a long path still before you and much to do. You have been made stronger by the adversity you have faced. 

You have honored us by choosing this great university and it is our hope that we have repaid your trust in us with a quality education and meaningful experience here at Kutztown University.

Congratulations, class of 2020, and best wishes in your future endeavors.