Commencement Ceremonies at Allegheny College Celebrate 317 Graduates, Three Distinguished Leaders

Allegheny College today honored 317 graduates and presented honorary degrees to three distinguished leaders in three separate Commencement ceremonies held on the Bicentennial Plaza in the college’s 206th year.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees were conferred on Emily Graslie, a science communicator, video host and educational media producer; Dr. Denise Johnson, acting physician general of Pennsylvania; and Douglas Lodge, Allegheny Class of 1975, an expert in sustainable slate roofing and lead volunteer at Common Roots, an organization dedicated to creating affordable housing in Meadville.

Johnson, who delivered the Commencement address, is the former chief medical officer of Meadville Medical Center.

She praised the graduates for their strength in the face of global adversity. “Much like steel being forged in fire, you have all been made stronger by your experiences during this pandemic,” Johnson said. “The trajectory of your future has forever been altered because, while you might enjoy the comforts of life returning to ‘normal,’ you know that it could change again. And, more importantly, you know that you can adapt and overcome whatever challenges life might put in your path to success.”

The creativity the students relied upon to get through the major portion of the pandemic and earn their degrees “can be translated into marketable skills,” said Johnson. “That gives you an edge that no other class in our lifetime could claim. Sure, others before you may have graduated with the same degree and maybe the same GPA, but they were not tested in a global pandemic. There should be a special spot for it on your resume.”

Johnson encouraged the Class of 2021 to embrace those skills and use them to make a difference in the world. “Don’t settle for the status quo and become comfortable and complacent. Use your knowledge and experience to force yourself to continue growing and innovating. Use your imagination to develop innovative concepts and ideas and then turn them into reality in a way that will make the world a better place,” Johnson told the graduates.

Johnson is currently a member of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s executive leadership team, serving with the secretary of health to advise the governor and the agency on all issues related to healthcare delivery and regulation in the state. Johnson also spent 13 years in private practice in Meadville before joining Meadville Medical Center’s leadership team in 2008. She is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology by the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Rows of graduates seated at the Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2021 on Bicentennial Plaza at Allegheny College

From 2013 to 2020, Emily Graslie worked as the first-ever chief curiosity correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago and created more than 200 episodes for “The Brain Scoop,” a natural history-themed YouTube channel whose videos have been viewed tens of millions of times by curious learners around the world. In 2020 she made her broadcast television debut on PBS in “Prehistoric Road Trip,” an original three-part series exploring the paleontology and natural history of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

Graslie has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including the American Alliance of Museum’s Nancy Hanks Award for Professional Excellence. Graslie received her honorary degree from Allegheny virtually.

Douglas Lodge is the owner of Lodge Slate Restoration in Cochranton, Pennsylvania. He has spent 45 years as a roofer with an emphasis on the sustainable nature of slate roofing. Lodge has been maintaining the slate roofs on the Allegheny campus for the past 25 years and has consulted on the installation of a new slate roof on historic Bentley Hall, which is currently being renovated.

Lodge supports a wide range of local arts and nonprofit groups. He is involved with Common Roots, an organization dedicated to creating access to safe, affordable and dignified housing in Meadville. As a board member and lead volunteer, he is currently involved with transforming a house on South Main Street in Meadville.

An Allegheny graduate waits before walking across the Commencement stageAllegheny President Hilary L. Link, presiding at her first Commencement at the college, honored the graduates for their resiliency and their special place in history.

“I congratulate and welcome our graduates — who have excelled as scholars and leaders; who have brought life and joy to our campus; who have earned this achievement through hard work and determination; and who deserve special recognition for the strength and resilience you have shown throughout this unprecedented and challenging time in our world’s history. We are proud of your commitment to, and belief in, Allegheny throughout your years here — and especially through the challenges of the last year.”

Marking the end of the college’s academic year, Link shared with the graduates: “The world you enter is complex, uncertain and full of challenges. Use the analytical, creative and problem-solving tools you have honed here to be the citizens and leaders this world needs, now and in the future.

“As you go forth to lead in the world you inherit, the world that you will shape,” Link said, “I urge you to continue to examine the world through multiple lenses, as your Allegheny education and major/minor combination has trained you to do, so you may tackle the tough problems that are important to you and to humanity.”

In closing, Link shared the traditional charge to the graduates: “Together as the Class of 2021 — as friends and colleagues, joined to generations past and future, move those tassels and proclaim to the world that you are today, tomorrow and always ‘Allegheny.’ ”