On Saturday, May 7, 2022, Penn State Mont Alto celebrated the Class of 2022 during its annual spring commencement ceremony held in the campus’ Multipurpose Activities Center (MAC).
In addition to honoring the Class of 2022, the campus also welcomed back graduates from the Class of 2020 to give them their moment to walk across the stage in recognition of earning their Penn State degree. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State held a university-wide virtual commencement ceremony in 2020; this was the first opportunity the campus has had to be able to recognize and celebrate its 2020 graduates in person.
In his remarks to the graduates, Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor Francis K. Achampong reminded the class of the value of their Penn State education, telling them “Your Penn State degree has equipped you to succeed both personally and professionally in a fast-changing, knowledge-based global economy,” and he challenged them to do three things: stay in touch with the campus, be engaged citizens, and give back to whatever community they find themselves in.
Madlyn Hanes, senior vice president for the Commonwealth Campuses and executive chancellor emerita for Penn State, delivered the commencement address. Hanes’ remarks focused on two themes: that the path to higher education does not look the same for everyone and the importance of having a champion and a hero and of being someone’s champion and hero.
She reminded the graduates that each of them had their own unique journey to Penn State—some as traditional-age students attending immediately after high school, some as adult learners and student-veterans and some as first-generation college students, just as Hanes was. Regardless of the path they took, she told them to never doubt themselves. “This is my hope for you each of you,” she said. “But with a heartfelt request, never lose sight of who you are and where you come from.”
Hanes shared that her path to a college degree started with the immigration of her grandparents from the city of Minsk in what is now known as Belarus. Once in the states, her grandfather eventually enrolled in night school, but her grandmother, Rose, never learned to read or write in English.
During Hanes’s childhood and high school years, her grandmother, an astute business person who helped run the family business despite not learning English, was adamant that Hanes would get a college education and have the means to be independent and make her own money.
When Hanes was 14, she began lobbying for her own bedroom, a cause that her grandmother immediately took up on her behalf, arguing with Hanes’ parents that the teenager needed a place to study. With her grandmother’s help, Hanes converted the family den into her bedroom, giving her a private space to work. “In retrospect, my grandmother set me on a trajectory that I may not otherwise have known. That room provided me a place to work, to think, to read, to write, and create without interruption,” she recalled. “It was my window into learning, and I seized the opportunity with the greatest of enthusiasm.”
“She was my hero,” Hanes said of her grandmother. “I wish you all champions to sing your praises and heroes to inspire you. And I hope that each of you in time champion others and become heroes in their eyes.”