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2018 Commencement


Saturday, May 12, 2018
The Muny


What a day! I want to say welcome to Webster University’s Board of Trustees and the Webster administrators and faculty members with us on stage. Welcome to all the Webster staff members who are here serving as hosts. All of you have helped make this day possible by your support for our graduates throughout their Webster experience.

It is tremendous that all of us can be here together, in this historic place, on this beautiful and important day in each of your lives.

This is a day and a time for celebrating significant milestones in our lives and in our organizations.

A week from now, in this place, The Muny will host its gala event celebrating 100 years of serving the St. Louis community. It’s one of several events commemorating the history and shared memories established here. They will welcome back Tony and Grammy Award- winning artists to co-host the event, and members of our Webster community will be here as partners and performers.

Last month, we held a similar celebration, a grand finale for Webster’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts 50th season, where countless alumni and award-winning success stories from Webster’s history returned to celebrate what Webster and the Conservatory have meant to them and to our community.

A month before that, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis held its centennial gala. More than 1,000 people gathered to celebrate and reflect on 100 years of fighting poverty and lifting lives in the St. Louis community. They raised millions of dollars in generous donations to further that cause.  We extend our congratulations for their success and are proud to support their mission of leadership and service.

And of course, as we celebrate Webster’s 99th commencement today, I am reminded of our successful centennial celebration three years ago, which welcomed friends and alumni, reflected on our history, and raised scholarship funds for the students who represent Webster’s future.  We will soon begin to plan next year’s ceremonies for Webster’s 100th graduating class.

Today, we are here for you – you, as Webster’s present, and you, who represent the successes now and to come that we will share to inspire future students who follow in your footsteps.

But I would like to ask you to reflect on the pivotal moments in your personal history that led you here today. All of the organizations celebrating important moments in their history overcame critical periods where their mission was put to the test. All of them passed that test. You, too, no doubt have overcome obstacles to reach the goal we celebrate today.

Maybe it was a difficult class you thought you’d never pass. Or a financial challenge that tested your resources. Many students experience hardship in their families and communities on their way to a degree. There may have been times when you questioned your ability, your future direction, your values and principles when faced with tough choices.

The all too present narrative for these moments is that students give up or steps way. They put their degree programs on hold. Or regrettably, given the circumstances, they never finish. But you have finished! You earned your degree! You interrupted any narrative that tried to interrupt you!

What made the difference for you?

Often it is the intervention or influence of a mentor, a teacher, a family member or friend who helps us navigate the obstacles we face. And that is why I ask you to reflect on those moments today, and to think back and make a point to thank anyone who helped you through it.

We are members of a community.  None of us succeeds alone.

I am reminded of something Dr. Donald M. Suggs said at our Diversity and Inclusion conference in February. Dr. Suggs is the publisher of the St. Louis American newspaper and a distinguished community leader in St. Louis. He is the namesake of the Donald M. Suggs Scholarships at Webster.

In February he shared his personal story with us. He spoke about his family who had migrated from the South to gain work in the steel mills of East Chicago. “But for an influential middle school teacher” he said, who took him aside and urged him to continue his education. “I remember these teachers to this day,” he said. “They were adamant: ‘Donald, you should not go in the direction of your peers.’” He went on to become a patron of the arts, publisher and civic leader. He credited not his smarts – his friends were better students, he said. But for the influence of his teachers and the values of his family, he, too, would have lived a different life.

Michael McMillan, our commencement speaker, will share his life story’s path “but for” his uncle, who encouraged him to join the Urban League. He did so as soon as he could at age 16, and the rest is history. But for that uncle’s influence, would this St. Louis chapter of the Urban League be as well-recognized and impactful as it is today?

I believe that all of us have these “but for” moments throughout our lives.  My own life story has been diverted from the paths expected for a girl who was first in her family to graduate from college to becoming the first woman president of Webster in 40 years.

In my undergraduate college experience, I can vividly recall the professor who made me excited about learning, the professor who cared about me as a person, the mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams – and the internship experience that truly brought to life what I had learned in the classroom.

Has that been true for you during your program at Webster? 

I trust and hope that but for Webster—our faculty, staff, fellow students—the challenges you faced and the obstacles that tested your resolve were overcome.

Who are you, the Class of 2018, and what do we know about you? Let me share some facts:

  • This year you were among more than 14,000 students advancing your studies under the guidance of our great faculty at campuses here, across the United States, overseas, and online.
  • Indeed, 44 of this year’s graduates are currently stationed overseas with the U.S. Military. We salute you.
  • I want to especially welcome the 163 graduates who are joining us from one of our more than 60 campuses outside St. Louis – you’ve come from across the United States and around the globe, and we are so thrilled you could participate this tradition today.
  • Overall, out of 5,590 total graduates in the Class of 2018, we have 112 countries represented, and 48 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.  Only Montana and New Hampshire are not represented.
  • 34 Webster staff or faculty members and 29 children or spouses of staff or faculty are graduating this year
  • Our youngest graduate is just 19 years old:] Nwe Htoo who turns 20 later this month –is earning a BS in Business Administration from our Thailand campus.
  • Our oldest graduate is also at the Thailand campus and…he is 81 years old! Thomas Leahy  is earning the MA in International Relations, and he’s truly a lifelong learner: Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree from Webster in 2014.
  • So the Class of 2018 is young and seasoned, diverse and well traveled, and academically impressive. 171 are graduating with undergraduate academic honors, including 44 who are graduating summa cum laude. 295 graduate students are graduating with Graduate Academic Honors.
  • Finally, befitting a global institution, 3 students are graduating with International Distinction. Congratulations to all of you.

What an outstanding, accomplished and diverse class!

I share these points of pride with you today, graduates, to celebrate all that you have contributed to this vibrant and accomplished community we call Webster. I encourage you to feel pride in your individual success and the success of the Webster Class of 2018!

So to you, graduates, I say congratulations. To the families, friends and supporters of our graduates here today, I say thank you for your encouragement and support you gave in helping these students along the way.

Please join me in congratulating our graduates and wishing them many future successes!

Thank you. Now please welcome my colleague and partner in leadership, our Provost, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Julian Schuster.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of Missouri and upon recommendation of the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon Michael McMillan the Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, receiving all the rights and privileges appertaining to this degree. Michael, on behalf of Webster University: we are proud to call you a member of our community, and today we are especially thrilled to present you with this honorary degree. Congratulations!

It is my pleasure to introduce our 2018 Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient.  Please join me in welcoming Michael McMillan, President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

Class of 2018, this is the moment you have been waiting for.  Provost Schuster, please present the candidates for degree.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Webster University and with the recommendation of the University faculty, I hereby confer upon each member of the Class of 2018 the bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral degree or certificate with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities pertaining thereto. 

Your names will be permanently entered on the rolls as alumni of Webster University.  You may move your tassels from right to left to signify your new status as graduates of Webster University.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present the Webster University 2018 Class of Global Citizens.  Congratulations!  You are now members of the exclusive, worldwide alumni club of over 195,000 Webster graduates. Please welcome Dr. Roslyn Grant, Webster Class of 1997 and the president of the Alumni Association.  We are honored to have her here today to welcome you to the Webster University Alumni Association.

Thank you, Roslyn, for making the official connection to our extraordinary worldwide community of Webster alumni.  To all of our graduates, I invite you to pause for a moment and take all of this in. What has transpired here today is a fitting tribute to your hard work and a reflection of the outstanding Webster University global community.

You came to Webster University at a significant time in the history of this country and of our world. Today’s honorary doctorate recipient is a reminder of Webster’s enduring values, but also an inspiration for what we can all do with our lives, our careers, and our communities.

So give yourself a few seconds to reflect and look around this beautiful venue. Observe all the people who supported you on your way to this moment − your family, spouses, children, friends, coworkers, faculty, advisors and fellow students who stood by you through your most challenging moments so you could realize your dream.  Will all the people who supported these graduates please stand, so we can thank you all together?

Behind me on stage today are representatives of the Webster University community who help   make all of this possible. These include the distinguished and dedicated Board of Trustee members, faculty members and administrators who believe in this institution and create engaging learning environments for you, and for the students who follow you. I invite them to stand and be recognized.

Everything you see here today, from the regalia and flags, to the music and ceremony, to the people who are here to help make this day great – all of it is a symbol of the significance of your accomplishment and the ideals that you will take with you through the rest of your life.

Once more, congratulations, and thank you for attending the 99th Commencement Ceremony of Webster University.