YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It turned out to be a picture-perfect day for the Youngstown State University’s 2023 spring commencement ceremony on Saturday.

Over 1,500 students dressed in caps and gowns were commended for their hard work. For the graduates, this celebration highlighted their ability to overcome adversity after living through all phases of the pandemic.

“Maybe the silver lining in all of that is you are probably much more resilient,” said Jeffery Allen, dean of Bitonte College of Health and Human Services. “For this class, in particular, they really saw all phases of the pandemic. They came in unaware of what would happen to public health within a few months of arriving here.”

The theme for this year’s commencement was just that: Resilience.

Elizabeth Brassell, a keynote student speaker, embodies resilience and determination.

“I was born three months early, they didn’t think I was going to make it — so just to be here is an honor for me,” said Brassell.

Brassell lives with cerebral palsy. Despite her challenges, she will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work from YSU.

Her message for this year’s class is powerful.

“Determination is the key to success in both life and career, it takes determination to get here today,” said Brassell.

Brassell inspires all those around her.

“She just said to me before we were on camera its such an honor for me and I said, ‘No, Elizabeth, you’re the honor; you honor us.’ I hope she believes that,” said Helen Lafferty, the interim president of YSU.

YSU faculty said this is the most exciting time of the year for the students, families and staff.

Ellen Tressel was also a keynote speaker at the ceremony.