As seniors prepare to graduate later this week, Jeff Stein, vice president for strategic initiatives, reminded the class of 2023 about their nontraditional four years at Elon. During the senior baccalaureate address, Stein encouraged students to embrace uncertainty after graduation — as they had to do when handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On September 23, 2020, I sent you an email that read, ‘We certainly don't have all the answers, and there is no formula or handbook for this work,’” Stein said. “‘We ask for your continued support, cooperation, vigilance, good ideas and grace as we navigate these unknown waters together.’”

The Numen Lumen Senior Baccalaureate was held May 16 in the Alumni Gym. The ceremony included reflections and readings from seniors, music, prayer and a candlelight ceremony. Seniors were each given an oak sapling to symbolize their time and growth at Elon, as freshmen are given an acorn during New Student Convocation to begin their Elon experience. 

Stein, who also announced after 20 years at Elon he would be leaving to become the president of Mary Baldwin University, said there is no roadmap to life after college and told the seniors to give themselves time to adjust to the changes ahead. 

He said that throughout the seniors' time at Elon, there have been more unexpected changes than just COVID-19. Stein said seniors have already shown they are able to adapt and that they are more prepared to graduate than they might think. 

“You've had to let go of what you thought was going to happen,” Stein said. “What you thought you were going to major in, how many parking tickets you thought you were going to get, where you thought you were going to live on campus, what classes you thought you would get into, what grades you thought you would get on that exam, and who you thought you were going to date.”

Senior Eva Pierce said it feels bittersweet to be graduating this week. 

“There’s so many people here that I care about and I think it feels real now — that fact that I’m actually graduating in a couple of days,” Pierce said. “It’s not the college experience I thought it was going to be but it’s one I will cherish for the rest of my life.”  

The Rev. Kirsten Boswell, university chaplain, welcomed students to the event. In her speech, she reminded students about their new student convocation four years ago and of all that has happened in the past four years. Boswell said students should be proud of how far they have come. 

“This is your time, a time for celebration, celebration of accomplishments and for excitedly looking forward to commencement and your next steps,” Boswell said. “But tonight, tonight is also for looking back at the treasured memories that will undoubtedly have carved a special place for Elon in your hearts.”

Senior Giselle Watts was one of the featured singers at the event. Watts performed one of the two musical reflections and sang the musical welcome along with senior Mae Bischoff. Watts said she’s excited to have received her oak sapling.

“It feels really great,” Watts said. “It feels like it was a long time coming but also very very short. It went by a little too quickly.” 

Senior Sophia Templeton was a tour guide during her time at Elon. She said every time she gave a tour she talked about Elon’s tradition of giving students an acorn at the start of their first year and a sapling at the end.   

“On my tour, every time I tell the tradition and I say, ‘I’m so excited to get my sapling,’” Templeton said. “And now I actually have it so I kind wish I could say on one more tour that I really am excited.”