News Commencement

Concordia College's Class of 2024 sets out to make the impossible possible

“Life will bring many challenges. But you have to remember this: You’ve already overcome so much. You’re not alone. And, more importantly, you can do hard things. You did it already.”

After experiencing the turmoil of COVID-19, Concordia College’s Class of 2024 finally got to celebrate a traditional graduation ceremony, student speaker Alissa Edjacin remarked during Commencement on May 5 in Memorial Auditorium.

“Today marks a significant milestone. It’s a day when we close one chapter to begin another. It’s a day filled with reflection, celebration, and a sense of anticipation for what lies ahead,” said Edjacin, clad in the traditional robe and mortarboard cap of a graduate. “But before we look toward our future, I would like for us to take a moment to look back through our journey together.”

She recalled her mother telling her “You can do hard things with God,” and led the audience through her memories of doing hard things, such as growing up in Haiti and experiencing the earthquake of 2010, and then watching the country being taken over by violence. Edjacin remembered the difficulties of learning a new language and adapting to a new education system, along with new food and new academic challenges.

Experiencing uncertainty and doubt, she reached out to her advisor, who directed her to the counseling center.

“And that was the moment when I realized I was not alone. You are not alone. And Concordia is filled with so many beautiful people who are there each and every step to guide you through your journey,” Edjacin said. “Now, I’m not telling you my stories of where I come from, the challenges I’ve faced, to evoke pity or sadness. But I’m telling you the story because each and every one of us have experienced what it’s like to do hard things.”

Her class experienced the pandemic and the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, and many difficulties since then.

“Many of you might have debated whether this whole thing was worth it or not … me included, honestly. But here’s the thing: we’ve all faced those challenges. We’ve all faced doubts. Yet we’re still here. We came out stronger, more resilient, more brave,” Edjacin said. “And as we move to the road ahead, I’d like to remind each and every one of us of what lies in front of us, but also what strength you have. Life will bring many challenges. But you have to remember this: You’ve already overcome so much. You’re not alone. And, more importantly, you can do hard things. You did it already.”

The second student speaker, Greta Almlie, started her college career at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

“I’m sorry to everyone in Admissions, but I did not want to come to Concordia at all,” Almlie confessed.

As someone who had grown up in Moorhead, she wanted to get away from her hometown and started at UND in 2020 — as all of higher education was forced to reckon with the pandemic.

“I had to participate in college online and limit interactions with others,” Almlie said. “It was hard, so I went back to my roots. I found myself home every weekend. It seemed silly.”

“That’s when I found my way to Concordia, and I’ll save you the whole story but, in summary, I toured it and fell in love with it,” she said. “And now I’ve found myself in tears all week long, asking ‘How am I supposed to leave this place?’ Because for me, like so many others, change is hard.”

She spoke of the beauty of change.

“When we look into the unknown and find ourselves in moments where we don’t know where we’re headed next, something really cool happens: We grow, we adapt, we become more awesome than we already are,” Almlie explained.

She encouraged her fellow students to find gratitude in the changes to come and thanked Concordia faculty and staff, families and friends, and support systems.

“Now I don’t know what the future will bring, and you don’t either. But I’m already full of gratitude for the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead,” Almlie said. “So, therefore, I challenge you, the graduating class in front of me, yes all of you, to be grateful for what you’ve experienced but also be grateful for what is to come. Use that gratitude as your strength to be bold, embrace change, and push forward.”

The Commencement address was given by Dr. Steinar Bryn, who also received an honorary degree from Concordia. Bryn, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin and earned his doctorate in American studies from the University of Minnesota, is best known for facilitating dialogue in areas of violent conflict, notably in the Western Balkans. He is connected with the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer, Norway, and was instrumental in establishing 10 Nansen Dialogue Centers.

During his speech, Bryn noted that though the world seems a bit out of control — with ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as over the climate crisis — people should not simply withdraw and cultivate their own interests.

“Concordia wants more for their students,” he said. “And I want to use this opportunity to, hopefully, oil your moral compasses in such a way that you can see ways of dealing with this kind of difficult world.”

He encouraged people to share dialogue with perceived enemies and humanize them and to work together to make changes.

“Some conflicts are caused by our extremely different positions in life. And those conflicts cannot be solved. The challenge is how to live with them,” Bryn said. “You’re better prepared than most people to make this world a better place. ... You have time to make the impossible possible.”

Following the address, Dr. Susan Larson, provost and dean of the college, presented the candidates for graduation. Rachel Horan, instructor of music, and Dr. Holly Janz, professor of music, read the students’ names. After the degrees were conferred by President Colin Irvine, the audience applauded the new graduates.

Irvine congratulated the students on reaching the landmark of graduation and encouraged them to continue giving their time and resources, staying involved, showing up in life, and to keep believing in Concordia.

“Keep saying your prayers for this place and its people. Keep coming back for reunions and finding your people in the choir, the band, the orchestra, the classroom, the lab, your athletic team, the stands, the lunch room, the library, or wherever else you found your crowd,” Irvine said. “Be well. Enjoy this day, and know that I am, as president of this incredible college, honored to have overlapped with you, even if only for a year. And know that my prayers will always be with you and the Class of 2024. Congratulations and roll Cobbs!”