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

98th Annual Commencement


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Thank you, Olivia, for those inspiring words. Many of you here today know or recognize Olivia. But before I tell you a little more about her, I want to say welcome to Webster University’s Board of Trustees and the Webster administrators, faculty members and distinguished guests 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.

  • Now, back to Olivia for a moment. In addition to being an outstanding and active leader as a Webster student, she was the first-ever recipient of the four-year Webster University Dr. Donald M. Suggs Scholarship.
  • When Olivia was selected for that competitive scholarship four years ago, she of course impressed us with her leadership, her academic performance, and engagement in extracurricular activities.
  • But she also inspired us with her awareness of the demands of being a global citizen. Her admissions essay focused on her concerns about the rising violence in Chicago neighborhoods during that year, the large number of children living in poverty in many affected neighborhoods, and her belief – and this is important – that better access to education in those communities could bring brighter futures for children and their communities.
  • When you consider Webster’s values and purposeful focus to meet the unmet needs of students and their communities, I think you would agree that Olivia chose the right university for her home and now for her alma mater!

What is Webster University, this institution where you have made your home, this name that will forever be etched on your degree?

Webster is a network of vibrant, local communities with strong connections among campuses in eight countries on four continents. Webster students complete their degrees in classrooms on military bases and installations as well as in their homes and workplaces through online courses.  Webster is a globally diverse network of action-oriented students, faculty, staff and alumni who forge powerful bonds with each other and within their communities.

Reflecting those communities around the world and the ties that bind us, Webster is an increasingly diverse and inclusive place preparing students to lead and be agents of change. To be transformed, as Webster’s mission says, for global citizenship and individual excellence.

And what about the Class of 2017?  This past year we have been fond of saying #WeAreAllWebster.  Who are you?

  • This year you were among almost 16,000 students advancing your studies under the guidance of our great faculty at campuses here, across the United States, overseas, and online.
  • Indeed, 63 of this year’s graduates are currently stationed overseas with the U.S. Military. We salute you.
  • I want to especially welcome the 120 graduates who are joining us from one of our more than 60 campuses outside St. Louis.
  • Overall out of 6,058 total graduates in the Class of 2017, we have 125 countries represented, and 48 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  Only Maine and Wyoming are not represented.
  • 36 Webster staff or faculty members and 33 children or spouses of staff or faculty are graduating this year
  • Our oldest graduate is 85 years old, finishing his MA in Management and Leadership here in St. Louis [James Van Praag]
  • Our youngest is 19, completing her BA with a double-major in International Human Rights and Political Science here in St. Louis, and graduating Summa Cum Laude! [Hafsa Mansour].
  • And of course it is another academically impressive class. 192 are graduating with undergraduate academic honors, including 69 who are graduating summa cum laude. 330 graduate students are graduating with Graduate Academic Honors. Congratulations to all of you.
  • Finally, befitting a global institution, 10 students are graduating with International Distinction.

What an outstanding, accomplished and diverse class!

And though we live in tumultuous times, and the world has seen so much change in the last year, two years, or however many years you have worked on your degree, I believe today brings promise for a brighter future.

In recent years we have seen a growing trend to question the value of a college degree. People question why you would invest the time, the money, the early mornings and late nights for class and study that’s required to earn what you have earned today.

The 192,000 living alumni of Webster illustrate why a Webster degree is a good investment in your future.  We see the value of being a Gorlok in their success stories and in yours.

Since its founding in 1915, Webster has been committed to meeting unmet needs, and expanding access and success for those who make Webster their home.

We are known for the economic diversity of our student body, annually recognized by U.S. News & World Report.  We are notable for how many Webster undergraduates receive private scholarships and grants in addition to federal support, graduate faster than the national average, accept loans at below-average rates, and repay their loans at higher than average rates.

For measures of social mobility, as compiled by CollegeNet, Webster is first among all institutions in the St. Louis area – and sixth among private univerisites nationwide – in increasing the average individual earnings of those who earn an undergraduate degree.

Our graduate degree population, too, has been recognized for 25 consecutive years as the most diverse of all nonprofit private or public colleges and universities in the country. Worldwide 48 percent of all Webster students self-identify as a minority ethnicity, including 51 percent of our graduate degree earners. The quality of our service to service members and veterans, which goes back more than 40 years to our first military campus, is routinely lauded by G.I. Jobs, the Military Times, and U.S. News & World Report, which calls us a Best for Vets university both on-ground and online.

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 2017!   We believe you are equipped to make a difference in the world and for the world.  And we will watch you with our own sense of pride and anticipation.

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.

[Provost Schuster speaks]

[Degree Conferral for General Selva]

 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 General Paul Selva the Doctor of Laws honoris causa, receiving all the rights and privileges appertaining to this degree.  General Selva, on behalf of Webster University we are honored to present you with this honorary degree. Congratulations!

It is my pleasure to introduce our 2017 Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient.

Please join me in welcoming General Paul Selva, the nation’s second-highest ranking military officer, and the 10th vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[General Selva speaks]

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 2017 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.

Class of 2017, this is the moment you have been waiting for.  Provost Schuster, please present the candidates for degree. 

[Provost Schuster announces candidates]

Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present the Webster University 2017 Class of Global Citizens.  Congratulations!

You are now members of the exclusive, worldwide alumni network of over 192,000 living Webster graduates. Please welcome Dr. Roslyn Grant, Webster Class of 1997 and the president of the Alumni Association.

[Dr. Grant speaks] 

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.

Roslyn said you are all forever part of Webster University, and let me briefly share one shining example of that truth here with us today. Karla Ramser-Young is a U.S. Army veteran from Louisville, Kentucky who completed her Master of Management at Webster in 1988.

Except, at that time, she was as they say, “very pregnant” with her son, Joshua. So her doctor cautioned her against participating in our commencement ceremony. Fast forward a few decades to a conversation between Karla and a now grown-up and college-educated Joshua, when she mentioned to her son, “You know, missing my graduation ceremony is one of my biggest regrets.”

Well Joshua made some calls to our Webster staff to arrange a surprise for his mom. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, after all. And I am happy to report Karla is walking with all of you today in both this ceremony and the Walker School ceremony!

So today, we must say congratulations to the Class of 2017… AND 1988!

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 General Paul Selva 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 the 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.

This moment marks a transition to the next chapter, but it is a transition from a foundation that will never be forgotten. The bonds you have forged will connect you to each other and to Webster for life. #WeAreAllWebster

Once more, congratulations, and thank you for attending the 98th Commencement Ceremony of Webster University.