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During Auburn's spring commencement ceremonies, held May 3-5, more than 5,000 graduates were encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and recognize the invaluable lessons of resilience and compassion they’ve acquired throughout their Auburn journey.

Nearly 40,000 family and friends filled Neville Arena with cheers, smiles and proud hugs as they celebrated Auburn’s newest alumni during the university's six ceremonies. The events marked an important milestone for many students who missed their own high school graduation ceremonies four years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My high school graduation was socially distanced, so I didn’t get to have the kind of celebration everyone should have," said Christian Lester, a music education graduate. "The opportunity to share this moment with my classmates and feel a sense of camaraderie was an amazing end to my Auburn experience."

Auburn president Christopher B. Roberts

Offering lessons beyond academics, the ceremonies — presided over by President Christopher B. Roberts — reminded graduates that their Auburn experience was about more than personal success and included an opportunity and duty to employ their skills and talents for the betterment of others.

"As you step beyond the walls of our campus, remember this: resilience and resourcefulness are your steadfast companions," Roberts emphasized. "They are the indelible lessons Auburn has imprinted on you—the ones that will guide you through life’s twists and turns."

In addition to the conferral of degrees and recognition of students graduating with academic honors, the ceremonies featured commencement addresses from two of the institution's most prestigious alumni, Kirsty Coventry and Phillip McWane. Coventry, a seven-time Olympic Medalist and former Auburn swimmer, shared stories of perseverance in the pool and beyond, while renowned business icon McWane spoke of the significance of respecting others and recognizing the responsibility that comes with success.

Auburn alumnus Phillip McWane

Emphasizing the impact of their Auburn degrees, both commencement addresses carried messages of hope and possibility. Delivering the keynote to graduates during the Saturday evening and Sunday ceremonies, McWane encouraged students to realize the value of both success and failure as critical steps to becoming well-rounded Auburn graduates.

"Auburn instilled in me much more than knowledge -- it taught me the art of questioning and the power of inquiry," McWane said. "My Auburn journey taught me that success outweighs challenges and that every sacrifice was worthwhile. Auburn isn’t just about academics; it's about becoming well-rounded. Life isn't a linear path but is instead filled with diverse experiences."

McWane, a 1980 industrial management graduate from Auburn's Harbert College of Business, warmly reminisced about his own Auburn experience, offering anecdotes that resonated with the graduates, many of whom identified with his academic challenges and personal triumphs. Notably, McWane decided to skip his own college graduation over four decades ago to marry his wife and begin his career.

"I skipped my Auburn graduation to marry my wife Heather — a decision that set the course for our next 44 years and three children together," McWane said. "So, today is actually the first college graduation ceremony I've attended where I get to wear my own cap and gown."

As chairman of McWane Industries, a global corporation that manufactures diverse products to bring safe, clean water to homes and businesses, McWane offered the graduates sage advice that included respecting others and remaining balanced both personally and professionally.

"Each of you stands at the threshold of your own journey. The world awaits your fresh perspectives, your bold ideas and your curiosity. Armed with an Auburn education, you now possess the ability to shape the future. Accept it with courage."

Auburn alumna Kirsty Coventry

Similar messages of encouragement echoed through the Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon ceremonies as Coventry, a 2006 Auburn alumna in hotel and restaurant management, delivered her remarks. As the current Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation in her native Zimbabwe, Coventry reflected on her time as a student and the important lessons Auburn taught her about the power of teamwork and the gifts that accompany challenges and failures.

As Auburn's greatest Olympic athlete, Coventry encouraged the graduates to continue setting targets for themselves and recognize the importance of having a strong support system.

"I encourage you all to look around and take this moment in because this has been your Olympics," Coventry said. "Any goal or target you set does not end with that goal. That goal is simply the foundation of your next goal. Your next move will be to take the risk you're already thinking about and go for it. Embrace it, analyze it, adapt and push through."

The ceremonies culminated with an official welcome to the Auburn Alumni Association from LuAnne Hart, a 1980 Auburn graduate and president of the Alumni Association. Hart was the first to congratulate the newest graduates on reaching the end of their Auburn journey and encouraged them to view their Auburn education as a “springboard to success.”

"As graduates, I feel like Auburn has prepared us for whatever lies ahead," Lester said.

Auburn's spring commencement concludes Monday, May 6, with professional ceremonies for the Harrison College of Pharmacy and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Recordings of all ceremonies will be available on the spring 2024 commencement website.

A graduation cap with the interlocking AU bedazzled on top