Updated as of May 21, 2021 at 7:20 p.m. to include additional photos, information regarding commencement speakers.

Commencement speaker Daniel J. Watts ’04 looked out into the physically distanced rows of graduates before him in Schar Center. Throughout the day, he would address over 1,200 Elon University graduates, all just minutes away from walking across the stage and accepting their diplomas. 

Watts, a Tony Award nominee, spoke to the crowd about his own journey at Elon. From struggles to triumphs, his time at Elon was akin to the growth of a caterpillar, from chrysalis to butterfly. 

“Before you rush, and flutter off into this world anew, take the time to recognize the wings you grew,” Watts said. “You grew wings!”

Over 1,200 students graduated from Elon University on May 21, 2021. Three ceremonies took place throughout the day, with 516 graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences, 399 graduates from the Love School of Business, 285 graduates from the School of Communications and 53 graduates from the School of Education.

Chaplain Jan Fuller gave her last commencement address today, greeting the graduates simply before the opening prayer.

“Well, my friends, we made it. We survived!” Fuller said. 

Fuller reminded graduates that while it has been a difficult year, graduation day is the start of a new chapter for all of them.

Class of 2021 President and speaker Jessica Flackensburg shared memories about her papa, who held many jobs in education and ended up attending even more graduation ceremonies. Flacksenburg said at her own high school graduation, her papa predicted which cliches would be used in many of the speeches. 

After reflecting on that moment, Flacksenburg said she decided to use a few cliches of her own in her speech to peers, faculty, friends and family.

“The world needs you, Elon graduates,” Flacksenburg said. “After spending these last few years working closely with many of you, and developing close friendships, I believe that to be more true than ever.”

As each graduate prepared to walk across the stage, they were greeted by a familiar face. Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley stood by, ready to remind them that walking up the stairs in heels is the hardest part of graduation, or to smile as they accepted their diplomas. 

Before graduates left Schar Center to receive their oak sapling, Elon University President Connie Book spoke to students about the difficult season they endured while attending college in a pandemic. Book charged graduates to harness their wisdom and understanding from their time at Elon to create a new season of prosperity. 

Book said she hopes the oak saplings serve as a reminder to graduates of not only their time at Elon, but of this season.

“You're reminded of your strength, stronger with your new knowledge, richer with your new understanding, ready for your new future. And I feel like I need to say ‘resilient’ right now,” Book said. “So ready and resilient, for your new future.”