The 2024 graduating class had an unusual start to their college careers. 

Their first classes were held in August of 2020, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them missed out on their high school graduations and first met their professors and peers through a computer screen. 

But four years later, at an in-person gathering of thousands of people, Wake Forest University President Susan Wente said these students now have the power to be adaptable.

“You began your college experience during a global crisis," Wente said. "But more importantly, you persevered and found innovative ways to navigate through it and to get to today.”

Student Body President Jackson Buttler also chose to focus on the positives in his remarks.

“Like many of you, every time we're called 'the COVID class,' I roll my eyes a little bit. Of course, those challenges are what have made our class so unique, but they certainly do not define us, nor did they define our four years here," Buttler said. "Instead, I'd rather think about the good.”

The graduates also heard from Dr. Mandy Cohen, who was appointed to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by President Joe Biden last year. Before that, she led the COVID-19 response for North Carolina. 

In her speech, Cohen encouraged students to embrace the university’s motto of “Pro Humanitate” which translates to “For Humanity.” 

“In this increasingly complex world that makes it too easy to believe the illusion that we live in a binary world of us and them, I hope you will recommit to the school's motto as you leave your college days behind," Cohen said. "Show up and see people, all people. Listen. Seek understanding, and not just with those who think like you.”

To close out the commencement ceremony, the crowd sang the Wake Forest University alma mater.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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