Abington hails new graduates who 'turned pandemic challenges into opportunities'

Student receives his college degree

Almost 350 students received their bachelor's degrees at the Penn State Abington spring 2024 commencement ceremonies.

Credit: Dan Z. Johnson

ABINGTON, Pa. — The Penn State Abington campus community celebrated the Class of 2024 during two ceremonies on May 3, praising the almost 350 new graduates for their fortitude despite the interference of the pandemic in their early college years. 

Interim Chancellor Andrew August reminded the audience that each generation has experiences that shape and influence them just as 9/11 and the Vietnam War did for their parents and grandparents.  

“For your cohort, the pandemic disrupted your education and your transformations to adulthood. Yet you rose to the occasion. You turned challenges into opportunities — and everyone here today is so proud of you for doing so,” August said. 

For keynote speaker Jacklin Rhoads, this commencement was a homecoming. The 2008 Abington graduate serves as the director of public affairs and marketing for the Office of Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. She, too, praised the students for rewriting the book on the college experience. 

“You did the work — from your bedrooms, kitchen tables and basements. ... Don’t discount what that means as you head out into the world. That kind of adaptability takes a strong mind, commitment to the task, and perseverance,” she said. 

About 60 high-achieving students were recognized at the ceremonies, including 47 who completed their degrees with honors. Two new alumni earned dual degrees:  

Seven scholars received their Schreyer Honors College medals: Nour Alatki, Kyleigh Byers, Anastasiya Datsenko, Rufaida Haque, Delilah Jabbour, Taylor LaPage and Skinner. The Schreyer Honors College at Penn State is recognized as one of the foremost undergraduate honors programs in the United States. 

Byers, in her remarks as the afternoon ceremony’s valedictorian, quoted Afrofuturist and author Octavia Butler, “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.” 

“I know we are going to take what we learned here and use it to change the world for the better. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that our generation is going to fix everything wrong with the world. But I’ll be honest, I think we are going to disrupt a lot more than we fix, and I like that a lot better,” said Byers, who earned a degree in Psychological and Social Sciences

Lasha Kaliashvili, the valedictorian for the morning ceremony who earned a degree in computer science, elected not to speak. The valedictorian at each spring ceremony is chosen by campus leaders with several factors weighing into their selection, including academic achievement and campus or community involvement. 

Two students were designated as student marshals at each ceremony due to their academic achievements. Ryan Gaffney and Joseph Schreiner Jr. led the student processional at 10 a.m., and the Class of 2024 followed Rufaida Haque and Pegasus Yang into the Athletic Building at 2 p.m.

Two moments at the spring 2024 afternoon ceremony drew emotional responses from the crowd. The first degree was conferred posthumously to Srijoni Mitra, who passed away unexpectedly in February. Faculty, staff, new graduates and guests stood and applauded as Mitra’s mother walked to the stage to accept her daughter’s associate degree.  

“Srijoni was a beloved member of our campus community, and we remember her passion and engagement in the classroom and her lively presence at campus events. I hope someday you and your loved ones will find consolation and joy in the knowledge that your daughter's presence lives on at Penn State Abington,” August told Mitra's mother. 

Abington has a long-standing tradition of allowing faculty and staff to present a relative with their diploma. Susan Robinson, a lecturer in criminal justice, gave her daughter, Katrina, her bachelor’s degree to cheers from the audience. 

Each year, the senior class honors a faculty or staff member with the Ross Brinkert Lion Heart Award, named for a beloved Abington professor whose grace, integrity, kindness, courage and humility inspires the campus community. The Class of 2024 chose Patricia Collins, assistant teaching professor of criminal justice, as the winner.  

A nominator said, “She takes on the roles of research professor, internship coordinator and adviser. She uplifts students and can see the compassion and ambition in each of us.” 

Watch the Penn State Abington Class of 2024 commencement ceremonies on YouTube and view images on Instagram @psuabington and Facebook at Penn State Abington.

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.