We Are All Webster: Building community from many identities, owning our biases, infusing diversity with inclusion | Webster University

2017 Commencement Dinner


Friday, May 12, 2017
Annual Commencement Dinner

Thank you, Nancy, and welcome to all of you for our most anticipated weekend of the year! The stage is already set at the Muny in Forest Park ­for us to honor the Class of 2017 tomorrow morning with all the pomp and pageantry that you have come to expect from Webster.

With us tonight are many who have come together for this moment of celebration. Thank you, distinguished guests, faculty and staff, administrators, graduates, families and guests, and trustees for being here.

Also with us tonight is the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree and tomorrow’s commencement speaker, the nation’s second-highest ranking military officer, General Paul Selva,F and Mrs. Selva.  For us, he represents Webster ideals in action: During his long career in the Air Force, he has provided distinguished service in many key leadership roles, worked closely with members of Congress, the White House and Secretary of State. We are so glad to have him here tonight and to honor him tomorrow with the Doctorate of Laws for his achievements. You will hear more about General Selva later in the program.

Each year at this time we also honor our outstanding faculty, alumni, and special friends of Webster University. Most importantly, we honor our graduates.

Let’s take a look at the Class of 2017:

  • The class totals 6,058 graduates worldwide.
  • Over 1,000 will participate in the ceremony at The Muny tomorrow, others will celebrate in the weeks to come at our campuses around the globe.
  • Among those participating tomorrow at the Muny:
    • About 120 are from our domestic, international and military campuses or took all of their classes online
    • They come from 48 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  (Only Maine and Wyoming are not represented.)
    • They come from 125 countries
    • 63 are active military stationed overseas
    • 36 Webster staff members are graduating, and 33 children or spouses of staff members are graduating
    • Our youngest graduate is 19 years old, and is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BA double major in International Human Rights and Political Science, from our Webster Groves campus
    • And our oldest graduate is age 85—that’s right, you heard me correctly, I said 85!—and is finishing his MA in Management and Leadership, from our Webster Groves campus
    • What a diverse group of graduates who now join the Webster worldwide network of alumni. With the addition of the class of 2017, Webster University now has more than 192,000 alumni worldwide!

Many of us have been fond this past year of using the slogan and the hashtag #WeAreAllWebster.    At Webster we are all members of an action-oriented global network of faculty, staff, students and alumni who forge powerful bonds with one another and with communities around the world. This weekend is why we do what we do.  I am proud to be a part of this Webster University community.

Now, please join me in welcoming the Chair of the Webster University Board of Trustees, Amelia Bond.

[Amelia Bond and Lynn Wittels speak] 

Thank you, Lynn. And thank you, General Selva—we are delighted to welcome you tonight, and we are so looking forward to the message you will offer our graduates tomorrow.

I now want to acknowledge a special group of student leaders who are truly my partners in welcoming you and so many others to University events. If you have attended Webster events, you have seen their faces again and again, and experienced their skill in making you feel at home. The Webster University Student Ambassadors serve as the official student representatives for Webster University's President's Office.

They work tirelessly with collegiate and administrative offices to greet and converse with constituents, government officials, donors, and other dignitaries during University sponsored educational and social events. This organization showcases the quality and diversity of the student body, promotes pride, and communicates understanding of the University.

The Ambassadors who are graduating this year are listed in your program. We are so very proud to see their success, and we can’t wait to see what they will do next.

Graduating Student Ambassadors, please stand and be recognized.

This evening’s dinner is the prelude to tomorrow’s celebration of all of our graduates—the thousands who have successfully navigated their Webster degrees.

Students come to Webster from many places and perspectives and with a myriad of personal and professional goals. This university community’s strength lies in this very diversity. What binds us as the trustees, faculty, and staff of Webster is our commitment to their success.

Now I invite all of us to watch this brief video that celebrates Webster’s diverse, vibrant and engaged students. [Video Plays]

What I am reminded of each time I see this is that each of us plays a valuable role in contributing to their leadership, their ambition, their successes. The students who graduate tomorrow have witnessed and will witness incredible changes in their world and the world around them. We trust that we have prepared them well—that they will see in Webster’s example and our own the roots of resilience and how to adapt and thrive when meeting the evolving needs of our time.

And certainly that resilience and resolve can describe the last year at Webster. We have seen so many students realize success in academics...our faculty earn prestigious fellowships, funding for their creative and scholarly activities, and international acclaim...and students, faculty and staff collaborating for headline achievements like the chess team’s fifth consecutive national title, the advertising team’s success in regional competitions and winning a spot at the nationals in early June, our athletic teams competing and excelling in Division III play, and a growing number of students from across disciplines and campuses taking advantage of the Provost's Faculty/Student Collaborative Research Grants.

Successes such as these double our own resolve to help Webster thrive. In the upcoming academic year, we will celebrate the grand opening and dedication of Browning Hall, Interdisciplinary Science Building, and mark 50 years of the Conservatory Theatre of Arts.

We have certainly faced challenges in the changing landscape of higher education and its support and the state and federal levels, including a dynamic policy environment that renewed our resolve as a globally diverse institution. We have seen demographic changes affect enrollments at colleges across the nation. But we can take heart in how this community’s collective and strategic resolve has prepared us to continue serving students and meeting unmet needs in our communities. 

Fundraising and scholarship dollars have continued to increase, while studies show Webster offers one of the best values and opportunities for social mobility among underrepresented students—number 1 in St. Louis and no. 6 among all private universities nationwide. In just a few months, the opening of Browning Hall, the new interdisciplinary science building, will expand that ability to serve students, including the nationally pressing need to create more diverse access to STEM programs to meet the growing demand for science-related careers of the future. On that note, this year Webster received more than $1 million in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation for initiatives that address this need.

Across the globe, our campuses in Vienna, Austria; and Accra, Ghana attained re-accreditation from their national bodies this year, reaffirming the value Webster brings to these communities, and the institutional vision that has made us a global university.

Indeed, tomorrow we will have proud graduates from multiple countries and Webster campuses around the world celebrating with us. The ceremonies provide a moment when we simultaneously bring together our storied past, our accomplished present, and our vision for a better future for Webster and our world. To all of you here with us tonight, I express my gratitude for your presence in honor of the Class of 2017. May they lead us well.