Homecoming 2016 Reunion & Family Weekend | Webster University

Webster University Commencement: National Capital Region


Saturday, May 14, 2016
Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.; Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Southern Maryland Education Center Commencement, Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Professor Wootten, and hello, graduates!

I am delighted to join you for today’s Commencement ceremonies.  Because I attended the 2014 ceremonies here, I knew today would be special, and it is my honor to participate with you. 

 As you have experienced yourselves, the student body of Webster is a diverse one with students bringing a variety of experiences and backgrounds to their time together as learners. Some Webster students come from far points around the globe, while others from the same household: Among us today are two graduates, Curtis Smith and Shalondra Nicole Smith, husband and wife grads in the Class of 2016.  Congratulations to you and all those present today.

I am not only referring to students at the campus locations across the Capital Region; you see, Webster is a worldwide, nonprofit institution that connects students, faculty and – now we can say – Webster alumni like you around the globe.

Founded in 1915 in St. Louis, Webster University was created as a place of opportunity for women west of the Mississippi, still a frontier of sorts in those days, to achieve their bachelor’s degrees.  Those degrees equipped them for careers and lives of service.  Even as we enter the first year of our second century as a university, we still feel the bonds with the intentions of our founders.

For example, this year our oldest living alumna turned 100.  Doris Federhofer, who lives in St. Louis, graduated from Webster in 1938, when Webster was still a women’s college. The fact that Doris provides generously to students as a scholarship donor and annually attends our scholarship dinner in St. Louis speaks loudly about the longstanding love she feels for Webster and that we gladly share with her.

Over our first century, Webster evolved and expanded our mission of meeting an unmet need—creating opportunities for women and men, for working adults in communities outside St. Louis, providing degree programs on military bases and installations across the U. S., establishing Webster campuses in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and responding to students’ needs through fully online programs. 

The Webster University that you have known has grown to 17,500 students strong.

The Webster University Class of 2016 that you are part of includes more than the 100-plus graduates in this room, plus more than six thousand more throughout the world. When you include students graduating this summer in St. Louis, at military and metro locations across the United States, and at international campuses in Geneva, Vienna, the Netherlands, Thailand and Ghana, overall there are 6,423 graduates in the Class of 2016.

  • Among this year’s class there are 110 countries represented, and 49 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.  Only Vermont is not represented.
  • 68 of our graduates are stationed overseas with the U.S. military
  • 21 Webster staff members and 18 children or spouses of staff members are graduating this year
  • Our oldest graduate is 75 years old, finishing his MA in Counseling at our campus in Tampa, Florida. Our youngest is 20, completing her BA in Management in London.

Along with you, all of these wonderful graduates are joining an alumni network that now numbers over 180,000. It is a strong, globally oriented network, prepared to tackle the ever-changing challenges of the 21st century.

Speaking of 21st-century challenges, the last commencement ceremony I attended at this campus was two years ago, when Webster had just launched our new MS in Cybersecurity program. I am so happy to say that today among you we have our first local graduates from that program. You are part of a strong group that includes hundreds more from throughout the Webster network in the United States. And just this year, that program is also launching at our locations in Vienna and Leiden, the Netherlands.

So, as you apply your degree to your careers, expect to meet other members of the Webster alumni network like you!

The cybersecurity program is an example of how your alma mater is forward-thinking, anticipating the needs of our world and equipping our students with the skills, experience and diversity of thought required to meet them. That experience is made possible by a strong network of faculty and staff at all of our campuses who work to provide Webster students a unified, high-quality, high-impact experience wherever they study.

I can personally attest to those efforts. Though my office is at our home campus in St. Louis – in a building built just after World War I – I attend as many of our commencements as the schedule of a university president allows. With each campus visit I learn more about the impact our faculty and staff have, and the ways in which they learn from each other and share best practices around the Webster network.

One shining example of this global community is a beloved faculty member here, Judge Jack Delman. Jack is retiring this year after 20 years teaching procurement and acquisitions law with Webster. He was a 2013 recipient of our Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor a Webster faculty member can receive. He’s not here today, but I know his impact is all around the room as represented by this student body.

Another is the fact that this year Webster recognized Jennifer Cottingham, Assistant Director for Fort Belvoir as one of two staff members of the year. She has a passion for education, and it shows. She is proactive in problem solving to assure that students are served well in a high quality education. “Not everything our students learn occurs in the classroom, “ a nominator said. “Every day they learn from Jennifer the value of hard work and discipline and the importance of following through on your promises.”

It truly is my distinct pleasure, and an honor, to be with you graduates, with our faculty and staff, and all of our guests today.

You all have accomplished a tremendous achievement that we are celebrating today. Like those pioneers who founded Webster in 1915, you balanced necessary risk with the promise of tremendous reward. A risk to better yourself. A risk to broaden your opportunities. A risk to make a difference, for your families and for our world.  And the difference you will make with the credential you receive today will provide reward beyond measure.

One of Webster’s historic and continuing strengths is providing opportunities to succeed for first-generation students -- those who are the first in their family to attend college or pursue a master’s degree. We are proud that 34 percent of our incoming freshmen are first-generation students. And that number only grows throughout the student body. With the addition of transfer students who come to us after their freshman year, 46 percent of our seniors are the first in their families to attend college.

I know there are many among you in our graduate student body and perhaps our faculty and staff, too. What an example you all have set. 

As you graduate, you follow in the footsteps of Webster alumni around the world who know that success cannot just be about one’s self. True success comes from achieving – and then sharing that achievement with others – and bringing others along in life’s journey and elevating their lives. You have been educated as a global citizen – to be part of the solution and indeed, lead the way to find solutions for the world’s most perplexing issues.  If you are the first in your family to attend college, you have paved the way for the second, the third, the fourth, etc.  Firsts are important.  And what comes next is important. After all, a first step, a first word, a first kiss should be the first of many steps, many words, many kisses, and so on.

The first Webster class of two graduates in 1919 has been successfully followed by many graduating classes—this year is the 97th annual commencement ceremonies for our university—all 6400 of you in this Class of 2016.  We are proud of you for what you have accomplished and for what you will accomplish as you set out to do what is next for you and those you serve.

As you pursue what is next to lead in this world, I recall the words of another leader, Pamela Melroy, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and NASA astronaut. During her career she piloted two Space Shuttle missions and served as commander for one more. Astronauts spend years preparing for what amount to very short missions, sometimes just days or a few weeks in orbit. You can imagine that her career was filled with truly astronomical highs as well as the kind of mundane day-to-day work that sometimes bogs us down and yet is so important to our success. She said:

“In your life’s journey, there will be excitement and fulfillment, boredom and routine, and even the occasional train wreck. . .But when you have picked a dream that is bigger than you personally, that truly reflects the ideals that you cherish, and that can positively effect others, then you will always have reason to carry on.”

As you graduate today and move into your futures, as you encounter days of routine and even, as Pamela Melroy said, the occasional train wreck, I hope you remember that if you are truly chasing your dream, every difficult day is worth it. If you are making a difference for others, every misstep is just part of the journey to fulfillment, to those exciting days like today, when you can look back and say, “this, this was a job well done.”

To all of you, I say, congratulations. And keep it up.