Class of 2024: Courageous and determined to make a difference

Class of 2024: Courageous and determined to make a difference


  • WFU honored more than 2,000 graduates of the Class of 2024
  • The “unforgettable class” celebrates perseverance & accomplishments
  • Speakers encouraged using talents to improve lives of others

A crowd of nearly 13,000 gathered Monday on Hearn Plaza to honor the accomplishments of more than 2,000 graduates in Wake Forest University’s Class of 2024.

The sun and comfortable 70-degree temperatures created a serene backdrop for the commencement celebration. Students gathered on nearby Manchester Plaza before the procession, sharing last-minute hugs and reflecting on their memories and experiences over the past four years.

“I can’t believe four years have gone by so quickly,” said Katie Zeng, a politics and international affairs major from Colorado.Commencement 2024 Hearn Plaza

As she arranged her cord and hat before a photo with friends, she reflected on some of her experiences including serving as president of a campus K-pop dance group and working for the University’s intramural sports in campus recreation. “I found such a community at Wake and belonging. I’m sad we are leaving, but I know Wake has prepared us for what’s next in our careers and life paths.”

Amir Bird, a sociology major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also shared thoughts before the ceremony. “I  have grown, not just in my career path but socially since I first stepped foot on the Reynolda campus.”

“The lifelong friendships I’ve made, the small classes and support from my professors have helped me discover my talents and abilities. ” Amir Bird ('24)

“I’m excited for what’s next,” said Bird.

‘Unforgettable Class’

As they entered Hearn Plaza for the procession, graduates were greeted by their parents, family and friends. Large screens on the commencement stage displayed congratulations and inspiring messages from Wake alumni, as well as stories from students.  

“This is such an emotional and fulfilling moment for me and my family,” said Frances Cave, a communication major from Washington D.C. “My high school graduation ceremony was socially distanced and my parents couldn’t even come. I’m so excited that they are here and finally get to see my graduation. Going through COVID our first year at Wake created a special bond with our class that will last a lifetime.”

In her commencement address to the Class of 2024, President Susan Wente reminded graduates of the unforgettable mark they left on the University. 

Susan Wente, Wake Forest University president
Susan Wente, Wake Forest University president

“Do not forget, you have each shaped Wake Forest and the Wake Forest experience for others, too. Your class will always be distinctive in our college’s history,” she said. “Yes, you began your college experience during a global crisis, but more importantly, you persevered and found innovative ways to navigate through it and to get to today.”

Wente applauded graduates for their contributions and said she also learned a lot from them through discussions along the way.

“What I heard from you is that you will graduate from Wake Forest with a set of superpowers, earned through your experiences,” said Wente. 

Adaptability, knowing the importance of relationships and how to seek and find joy are three superpowers Wente said the Class of 2024 will take with them after graduation.

“Be courageous. Be confident. You have what you need. Go and do good.” Susan Wente, Wake Forest University president

“As you experience this very special day on this quad, at the heart of your University know that Wake Forest will never leave you. You are a part of this place and always will be,” she said.

Top national health official brings inspiring words

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered the commencement speech. She referred several times to Wake Forest University’s motto: Pro Humanitate, which stands for humanity.

“While I do hope to inspire you today, you have already inspired me, and it shaped the focus of my remarks,” said Cohen. “And what I love most about your motto is that it feels very much alive on this campus.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cohen shared with graduates a story about a time in her early career when she failed to ask the right questions of a patient – an experience that has influenced her approach to life as a doctor, wife, mother and daughter. 

“I hope you will recommit to the school’s motto as you leave your college days behind.”

“Show up and see people, all people. Listen, seek understanding and not just with those who think like you. ” Mandy Cohen, CDC Director

“Take the time to understand the other person’s why. Focus on making a difference, not just making a point, and build trust by demonstrating your trustworthiness,” Cohen said.

Moving forward and reflection

Student Government President and graduate Jackson Buttler was inspired by Dr. Cohen’s words.

“Our class is a history-making one not only because we entered during the global pandemic, but because we have achieved incredible things,” he said.

Buttler mentioned members of the Class of 2024 who helped Wake Forest become the first intercollegiate debate program to win the Triple Crown in the same season; lead Hit the Bricks and Wake ‘N Shake to raise a record-breaking $614,722 for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund this year; and won multiple ACC Championships, and an NCAA Div I National Championship in Women’s Golf.

“Perspective matters. How we choose to approach the circumstances of our lives will determine just how much we can achieve,” Buttler added. “You can be stymied by a challenge, or you can seize an opportunity. Our college experience required us to make this decision early.” 

Jackson Buttler ('24), student government president
Jackson Buttler ('24), student government president

Other highlights from commencement included the ROTC commissioning of cadets, a performance of the University’s alma mater, “Dear Old Wake Forest,” by graduating members of the WFU Chamber Choir, and recognition of 36 faculty retiring this academic year.

At the end of the celebration, the new Demon Deacon alumni proudly threw their graduation caps in the air to remember the special day. During the recessional, faculty lined up to form a tunnel-like path and congratulated the new grads with hugs and handshakes.

Want to relive the WFU commencement excitement? Watch  the full graduation ceremony for the class of 2024.

For more great moments from commencement, view this photo story .

Learn out more about the 2024 job market and how the Wake Forest’s Office of Personal and Career Development is preparing students for a successful future here.

See more stories about this year’s graduation: Wake Forest University’s 2024 commencement ceremony was featured in news coverage by the Winston-Salem Journal, WFDD 88.5, WXII, WFMY and WRAL.

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