Students, faculty, staff, friends and family members gathered Under the Oaks to celebrate the class of 2020, after eighteen months in the making. While the ceremony was intended in May of 2020 to be the final commencement Under the Oaks, today’s ceremony is the first graduation of its kind — graduates finally crossing the stage and receiving their saplings, in person.

Class of 2020 ‘plus one’

For Noor Irshaidat ‘20, Elon University’s first international class president, speaking to a commencement audience was a fulfillment of a dream that began nearly five years ago. 

“This is not what we had expected for ourselves back in 2016,” Irshaidat said. “But again, it is what brought us here today.”

While her speech changed from May 2020 to September 2021, Irshaidat reminded her fellow classmates that since the pandemic, everything has changed, not just her speech or the date of graduation.

“Despite all the unexpected and devastating consequences, one thing is undeniably true: COVID-19 has made us stronger,” Irshaidat said. “We are different people today.”

In addition to adding one year to their collegiate journey, Irshaidat said COVID-19 gave the class of 2020 many ‘plus ones’ throughout the past eighteen months.

Irshaidat thanked her family, friends, fellow classmates, faculty and donors and said she looks forward to staying in touch and promises she will bring a “cool plus one” to events in the future.

“Now, by the power vested in me, I hereby confirm upon you, the Elon class of 2020, plus one, the degree of masters in humanity, with a concentration in pandemic experience,” Irshaidat said. “Go forth and change the world.”

Live like Rocky 

Leonard Dick, Emmy award-winning television writer and producer, began writing his speech to the class of 2020 almost two years ago. And though the world has changed dramatically since then, Dick said his speech did not change nearly as much as thought it would. Dick also encouraged all in attendance to get the COVID-19 vaccine before beginning his speech. 

Dick imparted wisdom from one his all-time favorite movies, Rocky, to the class of 2020.

“Members of the class of 2020: you are going to do great things in your professional lives, your personal lives, your communities, but along the way, you're gonna get clobbered,” Dick said. “And then, like Rocky, you're going to have to pick yourself up off that mat.”

Between the education imparted to Elon graduates, the support systems they have and the resilience they have displayed, Dick said he knows the class of 2020 has already picked themselves up off the mat.

“You have already entered the ring, and certainly not the way you expected. You got the best training in the world, from this very special university, you have an incredible corner cheering you on, and you've already been knocked down,” Dick said. “But you got back up.”