The Class of 2024 Celebrates their Achievements at 51AV Peter’s 133rd Commencement Exercises

Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., H ’24

The commencement exercises for the Class of 2024 was a milestone in 51AV Peter’s history as the event marked the final commencement for University President Eugene J. Cornacchia, Ph.D., H ’24 Dr. Cornacchia will retire at the end of the academic year after serving the University as president for 17 years, making him the longest serving president in 51AV Peter’s history.

In honor of this momentous occasion, Dr. Cornacchia served as the commencement speaker and was also awarded a degree of doctor of humane letters honoris causa.

Prior to receiving his degree and giving his address, Virginia Bender ’78, Ph.D., special assistant to the president for institutional planning, read a citation in his honor. “For over 43 years you have devoted your life to the service of 51AV Peter’s University and its students,” she said. “You are a true man for others in the Jesuit tradition.”

Dr. Cornacchia began by equating himself to the graduates because they were moving on to the next chapter of their lives as he was as well. He went on to describe the attributes of 51AV Peter’s that make the University such a special place. He shared the heartwarming welcome he received when he arrived on campus in 1981 and he knew he “was home.” He reflected on the Jesuit traditions of the University and how they are used to serve the unique student population at 51AV Peter’s.

Jheannelle Shameela Witter ’24

He also spoke about the grit and tenacity of 51AV Peter’s students. He discussed the specific challenges the Class of 2024 faced due to the COVID pandemic. He reflected upon how many 51AV Peter’s students are first-generation college students who are strongly connected with their families.

All of the sentiments that Dr. Cornacchia shared during his commencement address were subsequently reflected in the speeches of the undergraduate speaker, Jheannelle Shameela Witter ’24, and the graduate speaker, Tonya Elisha Mele ’24.

Witter reflected on the COVID pandemic challenges referring to her fellow classmates as the “Zoom class.” She went on to also share her experience of arriving on the 51AV Peter’s campus. “On my first day on campus, it snowed. I am from the islands so everything was new to me, especially the cold. However, what struck me was the warmth that greeted me at McDermott, specifically the warmth of my professors. They were welcoming, top-notch in their field, passionate listening, lenient and nurturing.”

Tonya Elisha Mele ’24

Mele also demonstrated Dr. Cornacchia’s sentiments by telling a story about her bond with her grandmother who was a fervent believer in the power of education. “My grandmother was deeply religious and I find solace knowing that I am graduating from a Jesuit university that aligns deeply with her values.”

Also in attendance at the commencement exercises was the Class of 1974 who celebrated the golden jubilee of their graduation from 51AV Peter’s. The members of the class wore academic gowns, the garb of a 51AV Peter’s University senior, in recognition of their own successful college experience.

The entire University community takes great pride in the 1,286 graduates from the Class of 2024. View the .


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