Flagler’s Class of 2024 takes the stage, stepping into their future

Student crossing stage at graduation, holding up diploma
May 6, 2024
By Anna Boone
The Flagler College Commencement Ceremony was especially momentous for the Class of 2024 who emerged from high school during a global pandemic. For most, it was the first time they’d donned a cap and gown or crossed a graduation stage.
Helena Rodriguez at Commencement podium

“I picked up my degree out of a car window,” Senior Commencement Speaker, Helena Rodriguez said.  

She recalled her 2020 high school graduation; it was a story familiar to most of her peers in the crowd.  

“Graduation is a special time for any college senior, but as I look at all you gathered here today, I am vividly reminded of a time when we may not have been able to come together and celebrate our accomplishments in such a large forum,” she said.  

President John Delaney thanked Rodriguez for a senior speech that was “a fitting tribute to,” the Class of 2024’s four years at Flagler. He also took the opportunity to recognize six beloved retiring faculty members for whom the Class of 2024 was the last group of Saints they’d welcome into the classroom:  

Associate Professor of Psychology Lynn Brueske-Walton, Teaching and Learning Librarian Jack Daniels, Associate Professor of Communication Tracey Eaton, Mrs. Aggie Johnson Assistant Professor of Spanish Aggie Johnson, Assistant Professor of Accounting Jeff Knight, and Associate Professor of Law and History Tracy Upchurch. 

Delaney at 2024 Commencement podium

After noting the distinct impact left by each retiring faculty member, President Delaney asked that they stand to be honored by those in attendance for their “years of distinguished service to Flagler College.” 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Katherine Sweet, delivered the ceremony’s opening invocation with a blessing fitting for this truly special occasion. She gifted the graduating class with “a sendoff to a life full of extraordinary discernment and transcendent love—the traditional Irish blessing:” 

“May the road rise up to meet you.  

May the wind be always at your back.  

May the sun shine warm upon your face;  

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,  

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” 

Friends and family of the graduates filled the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, recognizing the exceptional and historic nature of this commencement. As Flagler’s VP of Academic Affairs, Art Vanden Houten, and Dean of Academic Life, Craig Woelfel presented the 2024 candidates for graduation, the amphitheater erupted with spirited celebrations and long overdue proclamations of pride.  

2024 Commencement crowd

Saints crossed the graduation stage with an assortment of regalia symbolizing their substantial collegiate commitments and well-deserved achievements. In addition to the graduates presented with honors distinctions, Departmental Awards were also conferred to seniors who rose to the top of their programs in academic achievement.  

Helena Rodriguez, a double major in Art History & International Studies, was among these distinguished graduates, receiving an Art & Design Departmental Award. However, Rodriguez- who applied to Flagler as a psychology major- emphasized the value and stability that change contributed to her journey of success. 

“Looking back, I think one of the most important lessons I learned here at Flagler was that it was okay to change your mind,” she said. “When presented with new information, experiences, and ideas, it is only natural to change your major, change roommates, change your life. I know I cycled through many different degree paths before landing on one that felt right.” 

2024 Commencement students seated

Reflecting on the drastic changes she and her peers have graciously weathered since arriving at Flagler, Rodriguez quoted Bob Dylan: “There is nothing so stable as change.”  

She encouraged fellow graduates to embrace this mantra when faced with the question most seniors dread, “so, what’s next?” 

“While we all have our own answers to that question, or maybe not (and that’s okay, too), if you take anything away from me standing up here, just know that whatever you set out to do, it’s okay to change your mind,” Rodriguez said.  “After all, it’s the one stable choice we all have.” 

Paula Seymour at Commencement podium

All graduating classes possess unique strengths. Rooted in “unprecedented times,” and nurtured during a period of substantial transition, one strength to be recognized among this year’s graduates is bold adaptability.  

In a closing benediction to the ceremony, Assistant Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, Paula Seymour, encouraged seniors to joyously share this strength as they move forward. 

“You possess a spark potent enough to illuminate the darkest times,” Seymour said. “You are needed, now more than ever, to spread this light and lead the world to a brighter tomorrow. Shine brightly, carrying the spirit of Flagler College into the future, and shape a world as promising as the one you've been prepared to lead.”