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Widener Awards Diplomas to 800+ Undergraduates at Commencement Ceremony

Heather Penney, Widener, commencement, graduation

Maj. Heather “Lucky” Penney received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during the commencement ceremony.

Chester, Pa. – At the Widener University Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 19, Maj. Heather "Lucky" Penney told the class of 2018 that heroism isn't something possessed by only a chosen few, but instead is inside all of us.

"We all have that hero inside of us," she said. "Inside of normal, perfectly average people. Don't wait for some major crisis, some accident of history, to bring that hero out. You can all be a hero to somebody. You all have the capacity to change someone's life, to make a difference, to make this world a better place."

Penney is widely recognized for her heroic service on Sept. 11, 2001 when she received orders to deploy that morning in an F-16 fighter jet to bring down United Airlines flight 93. A former Air Force pilot, she now serves as senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at the Air Force Association.

She delivered the commencement address to more than 800 students who received associate's and bachelor's degrees from Widener's seven schools and colleges.

In her speech, Penney said she wasn't afraid of her mission on Sept. 11 because she had sworn an oath to serve and protect – a purpose she knew was bigger than herself.

"Purpose. Service. Courage. These are the habits of character that, as you leave Widener and embark on the adventure of your life, that must be your daily choice," Penney said. "Because you can never expect what life will bring you. So you must be ready, so you can bring your best when it comes knocking on your door."

Penney received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during the ceremony. Another honorary degree was given to Thomas H. Bown, II, of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, a distinguished Widener alumnus and an honorary member of the Widener Board of Trustees. Board Chairman Gen. John Tilelli presented Bown with an honorary doctor of public service degree for his decades of service to and support of Widener and the advancement of its students, faculty and staff.

Also during the commencement, Tulsi Patel, who was selected as the President's Award recipient, reminded her classmates about the remarkable changes they went through in four years.

Patel of Folsom, Pennsylvania explained that those changes – both in and outside of the classroom – have led to the chapter of their lives that comes next. Following commencement, Patel, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering and computer science and a minor in mechanical engineering and mathematics, will start a position as a computer systems validation engineer at Integrated Project Services in New Jersey.

"Class of 2018, we will continue to learn and change – not just our fashion sense, but our interests, our goals and passions, our overall mindset," Patel said in her speech. "Look to your left and your right, you are sitting here with your mini family, the ones who you shared four years of your life with. Now, it's time to share our Widener experience with others. Proudly tell your Widener story."

Patel was joined by valedictorian Emma Irving, an English major, and co-salutatorians Jennifer Rohrbach, an English and creative writing major, and Jeffrey Lord, a computer science major.

In total, 464 of the graduates were female and 371 were male. They hailed from 21 states and three other countries (China, Greece and Saudi Arabia). The youngest graduate was 20 years old, while the oldest was 73.

Widener President Julie E. Wollman reflected on the achievements of the students and university in the last four years.

"To the class of 2018, I congratulate you on your graduation and encourage you, in the midst of all the excitement and frenzy of this day, to find a few calm moments to reflect on all you've done to earn this special moment," Wollman said.

"Your Widener education gave you the tools to be a game changer not only in your profession, but in your community, across the country, and around the world," Wollman added. "I know you will put these tools to work in ways that will continue to make us all exceptionally proud. Just as Widener is now part of your personal life story, you are now part of the rich fabric of Widener's nearly 200-year history."

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,