Penn State York hosts first in-person commencement ceremony since 2019 at PeoplesBank Park

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Graduates Kara Holland, left, and Minhthu Nguyen, prepare for Penn State York Commencement at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Saturday, May 8, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

For the first time since 2019, Penn State York held an in-person commencement ceremony Saturday to celebrate its spring graduates. 

Most of the college's 56 graduates attended the ceremony at PeoplesBank Park, accompanied by their friends and family. For many students, this was the first time all year that they saw their entire graduating class, with the majority of courses held online in the fall and spring semesters. 

"It is great to see everybody three-dimensionally," said commencement speaker Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance. 

Penn State York spokesperson Barbara Dennis said this was the first time the college has held an off-campus commencement ceremony and the first time PeoplesBank Park has held any commencement ceremony.

Most aspects of the event were consistent with a traditional commencement, although graduates were not able to shake Chancellor David Christiansen's hand due to COVID-19 protocols. Graduates wore masks for the majority of the ceremony and were only allowed to remove them to walk across the field to take their diplomas. 

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As the commencement speaker, Schreiber congratulated the graduating class. He noted that completing a college education is a big accomplishment in a normal year, but it is even more impressive that the students were able to do so during a global pandemic. 

For graduate Jelena Young, the road to her diploma was made even more difficult when she was hit by an intoxicated driver in 2018. Young said paramedics told her most people would not have survived the accident, which left her unable to walk for two months and with a concussion that continued to impact her until last year. 

Penn State York graduate Adannaya Onwukamjo, right, of Conewago Township, and her friend Chinonye Charles-Obi, of Springfield Township laugh as they pose for photos following the Penn State York Commencement at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Saturday, May 8, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The accident forced Young to withdraw from her classes for several months while she recovered. She resumed her education in 2019, and despite her obstacles, Young graduated on time with the rest of her class. She said this was largely because she started her education early through a scholarship program and was on track to graduate early before the accident. 

"I feel like a survivor," Young said. 

While all of Young's classes were online over the last year, she said she worked on campus and was able to see some of her closer friends in her graduating class throughout the year.

This year did not mark Young's final year of education. Next month, Young said she is moving to Philadelphia, where she plans to attend law school. She said she intends to pursue a legal career with hopes to help victims of abuse. 

The gravity of her accomplishments did not sink in for Young until Saturday, she said. During the ceremony, she said she started feeling proud of herself. 

"It wasn't really hitting me until I arrived here," Young said.