Updated as of 1:16 a.m. on May 22 to include more interviews from seniors who attended the event and additional photos.

The class of 2024 gathered Under The Oaks to celebrate their Elon University achievements at the 2024 Numen Lumen Baccalaureate ceremony on May 21. It was there where seniors participated in the annual tradition of lighting candles and receiving oaks saplings

Hillary Zaken, interim assistant dean of multifaith engagement, coordinated the event to help students discover their purpose outside of Elon. She said the ceremony reflects on meaningful experiences throughout their academic journey and highlights the influence of the senior class on the university. 

“We want to help students find their meaning and purpose at Elon,” Zaken told Elon News Network. “So being able to bring everyone together here Under the Oaks as a class, before they go their separate ways and their individual journeys, I want this sense of unity and connection to prevail tonight.”

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

The podium prepared for the commencement before the Numen Lumen Baccalaureate ceremony begins on May 21 Under the Oaks.

Zaken said it's important for this class to understand their value at Elon because this group endured a difficult freshman year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony also offered  opportunities to connect with diverse cultures and individuals. 

“It’s a celebration of diversity on our campus with a mix of traditional values to create a special place,” Zaken said. “I hope it's a time to both learn something new and celebrate the journey they've been on together for the last four years.”

Senior Noah Dyson said being diagnosed with bipolar disorder pushed back his academic career until he decided to return to campus in 2020 to continue his studies. Throughout his journey, Dyson said he learned to appreciate the positive and negative aspects of himself and discovered his purpose was to educate and support others with this illness.

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

Elon University President Connie Book walks to her seat Under The Oaks on May 21.

Dyson was a part of “The Meaning We Make” section, which promoted religious diversity within the community, and recited 1 Corinthians 13: 1 - 7. He said his hardships with his mental illness inspired him to choose this bible verse. 

“When you go through hardship, it reveals parts of you that you've tried to hide from the world,” Dyson told Elon News Network. “So for me, struggling with depression and mental illness pushed me to work on myself. I choose to be someone who tries to be a light in other's world and spread each level of positivity.” 

Dyson said he gained the confidence at Elon to share his experience by embracing his weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He decided to pursue a career in the mental healthcare field or higher education with disability resources and first-generation students. After graduation, he plans to return home to contribute to equity and inclusive initiatives within politics.

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

Students light each others candles at the end of the Numen Lumen Baccalaureate ceremony on May 21 Under the Oaks.

“Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness, and if you look for the light in others, you'll never be disappointed,” Dyson said. “I'm hoping that as a graduate someone takes my message to heart and decides to go out into this brave new world.”

Senior Jillian Shor shared a powerful sentiment from the Jewish community during the event — a prayer known as the Shehechiyanu. This is a Jewish tradition that explores blessings and gratitude. Shor said this was a great way to show her appreciation for the Elon community, which has helped her to build new friendships, embrace her identity in the Jewish community and become the best version of herself.

“A moment of gratitude for where we are in life and how we've gotten to this day,” Shor told Elon News Network. “I've been feeling sentimental these past few weeks, so stay as grounded as possible and get the most out of these last moments that we have together.”

After graduation, Shor said she plans to earn her Master’s as an art instructor.  

Senior Sonali Schroder spoke at the event and recited a powerful quote from “‘Abdu’ll-Bahá,” which is a sentiment of love. Schroder said she chose these words to express her dedication to religion and the power of Love at Elon. The quote reflects on the passage of time that grows into love if one allows it into their life. 

Though reaching her senior year has been an emotional rollercoaster, Schroder said she is eager to begin the next chapter in her life. 

“It's bittersweet,” Schroder said. “It's really exciting to be moving on to another step. Especially now that I am joining the alums out there and reflecting on my time at Elon, but it's sad too. I know that it's time for a change and that my time has come to an end.”

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

Students listen to the speakers of the Numen Lumen Baccalaureate ceremony on May 21 Under the Oaks.

Schroder also encouraged incoming freshmen to enjoy their time at Elon and build connections in the community. 

“Just to know that you're never alone,” Schroder said. “That's the biggest lesson that I've gotten from Elon, is just how much of a community there is and how many people are there to support you. Even if you don't know them yet. You will meet incredible people who will make a really deep impact in your life and they'll show so much support and care for you.”

The event’s musical welcome with senior vocalists Jamiliyah Ismaiel and Sivaun Scott provided a moment of recollection and realization, according to Ismaiel. She chose the song “Good Old Days” by Macklemore to represent the best memories of her senior class. 

“It seemed to sum up that nostalgic feeling that we're all kind of going through right now reminiscing on the past while also focusing on the future, like even this verse,” Ismaiel said. “I was thinking about the past while focusing on the future. It's like that's where we are right now.”

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

Senior vocalists Jamiliyah Ismaiel (left) and Sivaun Scott (right) perform during the Numen Lumen Baccalaureate ceremony on May 21 Under the Oaks.

Senior Samantha Pensiero attended the ceremony and said her favorite parts included both the musical segment and students sharing their perspectives on religion. There was also a moment of silence to honor her classmate Jackson Yelle, who died in spring 2023, which she said was very impactful. 

“I loved that they included different religions, backgrounds and people. It was very emotional,”  Pensiero said. “I really liked that Elon remembered Jackson Yelle as a member of our class. I'm so happy to be graduating with all of you.” 

Another student who attended, senior Delyla Makki, said she had a difficult transition from freshman to senior year. While isolation during COVID-19 taught her to be self-aware of her career goals, Makki said her time at Elon taught her how to navigate situations through her actions and perceptions. 

Makki said the most memorable moment of the event was the musical performance by Ismaiel and Scott, which she said set the tone for student engagement and self-reflection. 

“I think it allows time for reflection,” Makki said. “We don't really do that when we're wrapped up in all the things of next steps and what's coming next. I think it's a good opportunity for us to sit down and think about the future.”