Lenoir-Rhyne University holds 2024 commencement ceremonies

Lenoir-Rhyne University conferred approximately 600 undergraduate and graduate degrees – 125 of those with honors – during commencement ceremonies held on the university’s three campuses on May 9, 10 and 11.

Six students in graduation regalia stand on the field under a sign reading "Congratulations Class of 2024"

At the Hickory ceremony on May 10, university president Fred Whitt, Ed.D., congratulated the members of the Class of 2024, recognizing how this graduation year is special to many members of the class who were unable to participate in commencement exercises when they completed high school in 2020.

“I’m really excited to celebrate this class in particular,” he said. “They’ve been among our most engaged and participatory students because they were ready to be engaged and finally got to experience what we call the Lenoir-Rhyne experience.”

Whitt commended the class for their hard work, dedication and perseverance in achieving a lifetime achievement, adding, “Your dream was powerful. It motivated you. It sustained you. It helped you do things you thought were impossible. So today, you celebrate this dream coming true, and we are honored to be able to celebrate with you as well.”

Diego Sanjuan speaks behind the podium on stage in Moretz Stadium

Student speakers shared their perspectives on their years of study at Lenoir-Rhyne. Diego Sanjuan, a biochemistry major and music minor well-known to the campus community as a Student Government Association leader – he served as president this year – and Bear of Distinction, delivered the address for the undergraduates. He offered wisdom from his scientific forebears and reflected on the pandemic that shadowed the Class of 2024 when they arrived at LR.

“Despite the challenges, be they emotional, mental or physical, it is by the grace of Almighty God that we have overcome enough to be present in this moment and will continue to overcome as we embark on this new chapter of our lives,” said Sanjuan.

He closed his remarks by saying, “May you view this moment not as the end, but as a transition and a testament to our resilience, determination and drive to succeed. As we embark on this new chapter, let us embrace change, take leaps of faith, and not fear failure. For now, we understand that the greatest growth comes from moments of great adversity.”

Kimberly Nanna stands behind the podium onstage in Moretz Stadium

Kimberly Nanna, who received her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling on Friday, delivered her speech as a representative of the graduate student body. In her late 40s, Nanna left a successful career in corporate communications to reinvent herself as a counselor for adults suffering from anxiety and depression or needing assistance through major life changes.

She opened with an anecdote about an embarrassing mistake in a presentation at church as a child. “It was a desire, even at a young age, to connect with people on a deeper level that compelled me to continue putting myself out there, in front of an audience, despite my hating it. Sometimes the outcome was less than I would have hoped for. Still, I kept going.”

She described how that drive led to her early success in a career as a performing singer-songwriter and, later, led her to change careers to pursue counseling.

“I had realized, after experiencing a good deal of exhaustion and burnout, that what I really needed was authenticity, the freedom to express it and the feeling that it was welcomed and appreciated. That pursuit ultimately led me here, to LR.”

Omari Alexander's parents accept a posthumous bachelor's degree on behalf of their son

Before conferring degrees to the undergraduate students present, the class shared a poignant moment and standing ovation when President Whitt honored Omari Alexander with a posthumous degree. The promising 19-year-old sophomore from Concord, North Carolina and member of the LR football team was killed in an off-campus incident on November 20, 2021, an event that devastated the campus community. Alexander’s parents, the Rev. Russell and Shonja Alexander, accepted the degree on their son’s behalf.

“I hope the Alexander family will take consolation, some sense of joy in the knowledge that this university forever remembers Omari Alexander and his accomplishments, contributions and the mark he made on our community.”

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