Albion College Commencement ceremony launches class of 2023

April 29, 2023

By Jake Weber

Much like a NASA mission, Albion College waited for the right weather window for Commencement Saturday and got clear skies as it launched the class of 2023 on the next stage of its life journey.

Nearly 285 graduates gathered on the Quadrangle for the second Commencement exercises led by interim President Joe Calvaruso, ’78. They also welcomed Albion College’s first astronaut, Josh Cassada, ’95, as the commencement speaker.

“Donna and I thank you for allowing us to join you, serving as your interim president for 16 months,” said Calvaruso, whose voice broke with emotion as the students cheered him on. It has been a great honor and we will cherish the time we spent together.”

“My mom and dad drove from Dallas, Texas to be here. Some traveled from California or even Mexico and Mongolia,” said Carlos Paniagua Emiliano, whose senior speaker remarks considered the diverse face of the Class of 2023 — and the common debt of gratitude they now all bear.

“Don’t just acknowledge, recognize, and thank the people that helped you on this path toward graduation, become part of someone else’s journey,” Paniagua Emiliano said. “Wherever you choose to call home after today, uplift that community. And don’t forget about Albion. As Albion grows more diverse, there will be more people just like you, going through the same struggles that you did.”

Josh Cassada, ’95, noted that it seems “kind of obvious, to have an astronaut talking about courage” — then turned that idea on its head for his Commencement address to the Class of 2023.

“Launching on top of a rocket, living for months in space, embarking on a seven-hour spacewalk — none of that required courage,” said Cassada, who last month, returned from a five-month mission on the International Space Station. “We were as prepared as anyone could be, for what we knew was going to happen, and for the unexpected. There was nothing left to fear,” Cassada said.

Instead, Cassada recalled the “academic courage” he gained from his Albion professors, who helped him, and all their students, face the fear of failure that comes with tackling the unknown. The “academic courage” that got the Class of 2023 through college, Cassada explained, will inform their alumni lives in valuable ways.

“Starting today, you’ll have opportunities to decide whether to deviate from a path that is well-understood, comfortable, and not all that scary. And there is nothing wrong with that path,” Cassada said. “But there will occasionally be another path you could choose — and that path will, on its face, generate fear — whether you admit it or not — and it will seem incredibly daunting,” he said.

“I’m here to share with you that sometimes choosing that second path — gathering your courage and moving toward what you fear — could unlock an incredibly fulfilling life in which you exercise your true passions and your true potential every single day.”

Cassada concluded, “I’m here as proof that your adventure is still very much in its infancy — and I can assure you that you have already gained the intellectual skills to be courageous. I, for one, am incredibly excited for you.”

For her faculty farewell to the Class of 2023, physics professor Nicolle Zellner shared the results of an impromptu poll she did with the graduates. “Many of you wrote about how your time at Albion — in classrooms, in the Nature Center, with professors and staff and co-workers and friends — has changed your life for the better. You wrote about a transformative time when you were challenged to be and do so much more than you thought you could; a time when you learned you were “ready enough”; the amazing time when years flew by faster than at any other point in your life; but a time when you made memorable and unforgettable connections,” she said.

“We faculty are honored to know you, to support you, and to follow your careers. The Albion community has helped you develop and hone a fantastic tool kit of skills to solve problems, to tackle challenges, to adapt to an ever-changing world, to create new memories and to become the you of tomorrow. You now have what it takes to go anywhere,” Zellner said. “Even to infinity! And beyond.”