Undergraduate Commencement 2024: Ready to Make Their Mark—and Their Lives a ‘Living Thank You’

The culmination of a college journey. A launchpad for their futures. And for many members of the Class of 2024, Commencement on May 25 was their first in-person graduation celebration in nearly a decade.

by Hayden Royster, Office of Marketing & Communications | May 28, 2024

A little drizzle and cloud cover couldn't dampen spirits at Saint Mary’s 2024 Undergraduate Commencement. 

The SMC stadium grounds sprouted with umbrellas and noisemakers alike on the morning of May 25, as 560 Gaels made their way to the field. Along with robes, students wore their own distinctive accouterments. There were scores of colorfully decorated mortar board caps, adorned with initials, memes, and quotes. “The heart of justice is truth-telling,” read one, quoting writer and cultural critic bell hooks. “I caught a diploma!” read another, accompanied by a red-and-white construction paper Pokéball. (Ash Ketchum, Pokémon Master, would be proud. )

The Class of 2024—earning degrees from the School of Liberal Arts, the School of Science, and the School of Economics and Business Administration—had every reason to make a statement. Many were first-generation college students; 44 members of Saint Mary’s High Potential Program received diplomas on Saturday. Others were pioneers, the first graduating class for programs like SEBA’s cutting-edge Data Science degree.

Valedictorian Amanda Hofmann speaks at 2024 Undergraduate Commencement
Valedictorian Amanda Hofmann '24: "We each have left our mark at Saint Mary’s in our own, beautiful ways." / Photo by Bryan Navarro

For every student present, however, there was one overwhelming reason to celebrate. As Valedictorian Amanda Hofmann ’24—a double major in Justice, Community and Leadership and Communication —pointed out in her speech, the high school commencements for many of these graduates occurred in spring 2020, in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most ceremonies occurred on Zoom, if at all.

“We started college during a time of distance and disconnection,” Hofmann said. Still, she told the students arrayed before her, that shared experience made this day that much sweeter—and their bonds that much more powerful. 

“Whether through student activism, athletic achievements, events hosted by organizations, or academic research…we each have left our mark at Saint Mary’s in our own, beautiful ways.”



Bringing the Light

The Class of 2024 has certainly made a powerful impact on the culture and character of their College. They’ve scaled new athletic heights, from a triumphant win to bring home the Men’s Rugby national championship to securing Saint Mary's first WCC title for Softball. They have conducted NASA-funded research, won a statewide jazz choir competition, and participated in SMC’s inaugural Student Research and Creative Works Conference. And they have helped establish new community spaces and events, like the Veterans Resource Center and the Cultural Night Showcase.

Now, those graduates will be looking to make their marks on the wider world. As part of the ceremony, Interim President Brother Thomas Jones, FSC acknowledged that graduating Gaels are becoming “citizens of a world that so often seems unwelcoming and dark.” 

All the more reason to bring the light.

“It is my strong hope and desire that you will…punch holes in the darkness,” Brother Thomas said. “I know that as graduates of Saint Mary’s College, you possess the knowledge, critical thinking, and empathy for others that have prepared you to become lamplighters in a world greatly in need of illumination.”

Commencement speaker Tammy Ramos at 2024 Undergraduate Commencement
Commencement speaker Tammy Ramos ’93, JD, Executive Director of LatinaVIDA™  and a "proud graduate" of the High Potential Program / Photo by Bryan Navarro

Acts of Kindness

Undergraduate Commencement speaker Tammy Ramos ’93, JD, expanded on those themes. Ramos holds a law degree from Notre Dame University and is the Executive Director of LatinaVIDA™, a nonprofit that provides culturally relevant leadership programs for first-generation professionals of color.

Before all of her accomplishments, Ramos said, she was a “proud graduate” of the High Potential Program. She praised Tom Brown, the founder of the program, and Maria Hernandez, who oversaw High Potential from 1987 to 1994, for their profound impact on her own trajectory. “Thank you for believing in a kid like me, and all those who came before and after me. Your acts of kindness have been a testimony of what living our Lasallian values looks like.”

For her, Ramos said, it was countless acts of kindness—from professors and mentors, colleagues and family members—that paved the way for her own successes. The same is true for you, she exhorted graduates: “Let your life be a living thank you!”

Two female students smile through Saint Mary's Alumni license plate holders after 2024 Undergraduate Commencement
And just like that: Two members of the Class of 2024 pose at Grad Grounds with their brand new alumni license plate holders / Photo by Bryan Navarro

In the moment both personal and collective, the members of the Class of 2024 crossed the stage, one by one, to receive their degrees and take in the roar of the crowd. By noon, those Gaels and their loved ones had dispersed throughout the campus as Grad Grounds got underway. A few days ago, they were seniors, hunkered down studying for finals. Now, they were alums, transforming their alma mater into a raucous block party.

A mariachi band serenaded onlookers on the Chapel Lawn. The smell of sizzling burgers wafted over Ferroggiaro Quad. Grinning (and teary-eyed) graduates mingled and posed for photos, still clutching platefuls of pupusas or chocolate cake.

Finally, around 1 p.m, one more act of kindness: The sun punched through the clouds, illuminating the tenacious, accomplished, one-of-a-kind Class of 2024.