Updated as of 8:38 p.m. on May 24 to include video from the second commencement ceremony.

Elon University’s class of 2024 took flight as phoenix officially joined the ranks of alumni at the 134th commencement ceremony on May 24 in Schar Center.

Two ceremonies were held throughout the day, with the first kicking off at 9 a.m. for graduates of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and School of Communication and the second starting at 2:30 p.m. for the Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education.

Senior Grace Ackermann, the first-ever nominated student commencement speaker, began the ceremony by remarking that it was the class of 2024’s first real graduation — since this year’s seniors graduated high school in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I've come to know that the only certainty in life is that it will be unpredictable. We can look at that as a negative situation — nervous our next step won't be a good fit, concerned about staying in touch with friends, worrying about how to function in the adult world,” Ackermann said during the speech. “Or we can look at that unpredictability as an opportunity.”

Evan Purnell | Elon News Network

A graduating senior looks up at the crowd as she enters Schar Center for Elon's 134th Commencement ceremony on May 24.

Ackermann walked the audience through the class of 2024’s four years at Elon, beginning with immediately trying to find balance in a new COVID world. Yet, she said overcoming these challenges allowed them to head into their sophomore year being intentional with friendships and connections.

Come their junior year, Ackermann reminded the graduates of further uncertainty with the death of class of 2024 classmate Jackson Yelle — who died spring 2023.

The death of Jackson Yelle changed campus life for many students. And as a whole, we had to learn to lean on others for support,” Ackermann said during the speech. “I want to honor him today, as he's here in spirit, celebrating alongside us. As seniors, we march forward, utilizing the anxiety, laughs and tears we have shared throughout the years and channeling those emotions to excel.”

University President Connie Book followed Ackermann, charging soon-to-be alumni to remember how much adversity they have already overcome. According to Book, Elon was one of 4% of universities to open in fall 2020 amid a global pandemic.

“Class of 2024, you have learned and faced a really important truth in life,” Book said. “What do you do when it doesn't go like you planned? Well, you do exactly what you've done class of 2024 — you face the reality of it. Examine your options. double down on your commitment not to quit.”

Book also said she is not sure which achievement is more impressive: venturing into the unknown during 2020 — or graduating from Elon today. Through the resilience they have shown, Book said she knows they are ready for life after Elon.

“You are the class that we worked tirelessly as a community to ensure to begin your fall semester on campus and in person,” Book said during the ceremony. “You are the generation that will bring hope for a better world into being.” 

Graduating senior Matt Grosso said while he is happy to make his parents proud, he has a range of emotions.

“Sad, but we’re ready,” Grosso told Elon News Network. “Elon’s prepared us for the next step”

Senior year also went by quicker than Catherine Bontaites could have imagined, she said.

“It’s bittersweet,” Bontaites said. “It’s the beginning of a new chapter, but I also need to say goodbye to everyone that I met here which is a little bit sad.”

Graduating seniors Katie Higginbotham, Ally Shibata and Alice Rickards also described graduation as bittersweet because they love Elon, but are excited to move onto the next chapter.

Especially with Higginbotham and Shibata having been roommates since freshman year, they said they are saddened to be going separate ways after they leave Elon.

All three are graduating from the School of Education and had the chance to teach this semester— bearing stoles with hand drawn notes and pictures made by their students.

“We can all say our students really shaped who we are as teachers and helped us develop, so we wanted to have a piece of them with us as we walked across the stage today,” Rickards told Elon News Network.

Ethan Wu | Elon News Network

Keynote speaker Ginna Claire Mason '13 speaks to the class of 2024 about her experiences during and after her time at Elon on May 24 in Schar Center.

Book went on to introduce this year’s commencement speaker, Ginna Claire Mason ’13. Mason graduated from Elon’s musical theatre program and went on to star in Broadway’s “Wicked the Musical” as Glinda — as well as two Hallmark Channel movies “A Holiday Spectacular” and “A Heidelberg Holiday.” She also earned Elon University’s “Top 10 Under 10” Award in 2017 for her professional achievements.

After seeing a performance of Wicked in 2003, Mason told Schar Center that she proclaimed from a very early age that she would one day play Glinda, the good witch, in Wicked on Broadway. Mason took her own experience and urged graduates to never stop fighting for a dream.

“Class of 2024, I dare you to dream — to never stop dreaming — even in the face of rejection. To challenge yourself every day. ‘If anything was possible, what would I do?’” Mason said during her address. “And chase that dream with all your heart. No matter how scary, how silly, how daunting it may feel — fight for that dream.” 

One of the lessons Mason said she learned while on Broadway was to plan for the unexpected. One of these unexpected experiences occurred while performing as Glinda in Wicked The Musical, after missing the top step of a 15-step staircase. 

At that moment, Mason said the only thing she could think to do was take a moment to calm herself down.

“Disoriented, I land on all fours and perform an internal body scan for broken bones. Centering myself, I say out loud and unscripted ‘I'm okay, keep going,’” Mason said during her speech.

While Mason said she is not the “picture of resilience” for falling down a staircase, being able to stand up and continue in that moment was a crucial lesson — and one she hopes to pass to the class of 2024.

With musical theatre as a profession, Mason said she can’t help but to sing and made the graduates accompany her in holding a vocal note before closing her address with a performance of “I Will Turn to You” by Dan Gibson ’09 and Christopher Staskel ’10.

In the morning ceremony, she performed alongside other Elon students and alumni from the class of 2023, class of 2025 and class of 2026; whereas in the afternoon, she performed exclusively with soon-to-be graduates of the class of 2024.

“Assess the Damage. Stay rooted in your scene partners — your trusted and caring confidants. Give yourself a little pep talk if you need it. And you keep going,” Mason said during the event. “Grieve the losses, the broken pieces of a story you may not have asked for or wanted, and give yourself grace. But don't give up. Don't let go of your hope, your fight, your dream.”

Ethan Wu | Elon News Network

Graduating senior Sivaun Scott sings the nation anthem at Elon's 134th Commencement Ceremony on May 24 in Schar Center.

After each graduate took their turn crossing the stage, Book closed by showing the class of 2024 pictures of when they first met in 2020 in Alumni Gym — sitting 6 feet apart with masks on.

“There's a lot to be said about the comfort of human connection. I'd like to say that the fall of 2020 felt like yesterday, but it doesn't. It feels unusually like a really long time,” Book said during the ceremony. “What I do remember about those early days was an overwhelming sense of gratitude — that in an environment where there was so much loss, that you didn't have to give up beginning your studies at Elon.”

Book also quoted Isabella Cannon — of Elon’s Isabella Cannon Global Education Center —, who graduated from Elon 100 years ago in 1924, became the first female mayor of Raleigh in 1977 and gave the university’s commencement address in 2000.

“I remember her telling the graduates to embrace the unexpected. I've never forgotten that charge. Embrace the unexpected. You, class of 2024, fully understand the meaning behind those words,” Book said closing the ceremony. “I'm confident, class of 2024, that this is your superpower — your generation’s superpower.”

Before the class of 2024 exclaimed one last “Long live Elon!”, Book gave the now-graduated seniors one last charge:

“On this graduation day I charge you to be resilient and steadfast like the mighty oaks of which Elon is named,” Book said during the event. “The world needs you, class of 2024, and we are counting on you to make this world a better place. And I'm so proud of what you have accomplished during your time here.”