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

Los Angeles Air Force Base Commencement 2017


Friday, May 19, 2017
Los Angeles Air Force Base Commencement Ceremony

Thank you, Melinda. Thank you, Janice. Thank you to all of our faculty and staff here today who have made such a difference in making this day possible. Last but not least, thank you and congratulations, graduates!

It is my honor to share this moment with you, and I appreciate this warm welcome.

Just six days ago I spoke to many of your Class of 2017 classmates for Webster University’s 98th commencement ceremony in St. Louis. Now that event, being our oldest ceremony and in the place where Webster was founded in 1915, was a little larger: About 1,000 graduates plus perhaps 2,000 more of their family and friends in an outdoor theatre in St. Louis. (That theatre celebrates its centennial next year, so at age 100 it’s a few years younger than Webster.)

It was a beautiful day outside, blue skies and bright sun, with the flags of the more than 125 countries our graduates call home waving in a nice breeze. They were there to celebrate their degrees and hear from our commencement speaker that day, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and our nation’s second-highest ranking military officer.

But while the setting today is smaller – and indeed I appreciate the intimacy here – it is no less significant.

You know that, because each of you has worked so hard while balancing career and life developments to pursue your degree week after week, term after term with Webster.

I know that, because as president of this historic institution, I see the thought and energy faculty put into creating a challenging learning environment for you, with a degree program that enables you to emerge better prepared to seize the next opportunity in your life. And I hear about the achievements – and the sacrifices – of students like you as I attend various Webster commencement ceremonies around the world. And happily, as President I hear the success stories, the wonderful things Webster alumni achieve after they’ve completed their degree.

So I hope you leave today not only with the pride of a job well done and the prestige of a degree that you earned, but also with a better understanding of the kind of outstanding community you are part of as a Webster University graduate. Because you have now joined a community of over 192,000 living Webster alumni around the world.

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. Last Saturday there were similar ceremonies at our campuses in Thailand, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ghana. This weekend there are ceremonies at military locations like this one and bases in Washington, D.C., plus metropolitan locations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Little Rock, Arkansas, to name a few. Some of you may have met students from those locations in online courses, or if you took one of our “hybrid” courses that included short-term study abroad.

As General Selva mentioned to graduates last week, our history of partnership with the military is rich, dating back to our first military locations in 1974, and continuing today helping both active military advance their careers and retired military transition to new ones. Our growing Cybersecurity program has bloomed in part thanks to the input and participation of many of our faculty and alumni with military backgrounds.

So whatever turns your path to this degree has taken, you are part of an outstanding community of almost 16,000 students pursuing 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 on 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 in particular?  This past year we have been fond of saying #WeAreAllWebster.  Who are you?

  • 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.
  • 63 of this year’s graduates are currently stationed overseas with the U.S. Military.
  • 36 Webster staff or faculty members and 33 children or spouses of staff or faculty are graduating this year
  • Our oldest graduate in the Class of 2017 is 85 years old, finishing his MA in Management and Leadership in St. Louis
  • Our youngest is 19, completed her BA with a double-major in International Human Rights and Political Science in St. Louis, and graduating Summa Cum Laude!
  • And of course it is an academically impressive class. 192 are graduating with undergraduate academic honors, including 69 who are graduating summa cum laude. 330 graduate students around the globe are graduating with Graduate Academic Honors. Congratulations to all of you.

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 192,0000 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 ranked sixth among private universities 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. 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, to celebrate all that you have contributed to this vibrant and accomplished community we call Webster, and to reinforce for you that your alma mater truly, and by design, makes a difference in communities around the world.

And this journey is truly worth it; your presence here today validates that. Janice Neal told me just how much some of you have done to reach this point – like Dawn Broderson, Angelia Baumbach and Anthony Gray who literally went the extra mile – and then some – driving multiple hours to campus each week. Some of you completed your bachelors at Webster and stayed with us to finish a sequential master’s. I know we have an online student, Claudia Perez, who lives in Texas but made sure to be here for this occasion. And congratulations to MBA students Marilyn Smith and Douglas Taffinder, for finishing in elite worldwide company with a 95% overall score in the National Capsim Competition.

You all have stories of accomplishment, and no doubt at some point along the way you’ve each benefited from one of our faculty or staff members lending a hand, embodying the mission of serving students. So I ask you not to forget their part in this achievement. They are part of this worldwide community that you will long remember.

On that note, I will leave you with one story I had the pleasure of sharing last week, one that really illustrates the way Webster spans time zones, geography and generations. It’s a story that validates what this moment means to graduates like you around the world.

Karla Ramser-Young is a 60-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Louisville, Kentucky. She completed her Master of Management at Webster…back 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. (That was well before I became president of Webster, but it illustrates the stories that are part of our long history.) She never wore a cap and gown, never had that formal moment of celebration for what she’d spent so many hours to achieve.

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. That’s something on my bucket list…”

Well Joshua made some calls to our Webster staff, who were happy to arrange a surprise for his mom last week. Our ceremony in St. Louis was the day before Mothers Day, after all. So Josh accompanied his mother to St. Louis, cap and gown ready, where she walked across the stage to formally participate in her Webster University commencement ceremony. We shot video footage of the occasion that they aired on local news back in Louisville.

I feel such pride in Karla’s success, and in the success of the Webster Class of 2017! We at Webster 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 the families, friends, faculty and staff here today, I say thank you for your encouragement and support you gave in helping these students along the way.

And to the graduates, I say once again, congratulations, and thank you for sharing this moment with us.