2013 Commencement Speech

Good morning, graduates. Friends and family of graduates, faculty and staff, and all who are assembled here today. Class of 2013, you will hear this many times today, but each time is well deserved and well earned. Congratulations! Today is a day to celebrate.  It is because of your achievements that we are here, and we are honored to be a part of your celebration.

On behalf of the board of trustees and the entire Webster community of faculty and staff, I welcome you to the 94th Webster University Commencement ceremony. Welcome especially to the families and friends of our graduates here today. I do not know if anyone can be as proud of our graduates as you are, but I promise you we share every bit of the joy you feel for these wonderful friends and family members who are receiving their degree today.

Welcome to our honorary degree candidate, Norbert Leo Butz, who will be receiving his second Webster degree today. Norbert, we are honored that you could be here to celebrate with our students today. I know you see yourself in them, and hopefully they see in you the possibilities for success and impact in their own futures.

Welcome to our Board of Trustees, our administrators and faculty members with us on stage, and all the staff members who are here serving as hosts, and who have helped make this day possible by being there for our graduates every step of the way.

Graduates, today marks an important transition in your life. You transition from being a student to being one of our distinguished alumni. You are now prepared for a world where expert thinking, complex communications skills, problem solving, and working with diverse and sometimes remote teams are more important than ever before.

In a recent (April 12, 2013) report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93% of employers surveyed in private sector companies and nonprofit organizations agreed that college graduates should have the broad knowledge base that comes based in a liberal arts education – with the ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems.

Regardless of your major, a Webster University degree gives you that broad knowledge base and ability to compete on a world stage – or in your home towns. I am inspired by Elizabeth Robb’s comments this morning and reminded of a term that is becoming a buzzword of sorts – but an important one. Resilience. Resilience is a complex topic and the educational dialogue about how to develop individual’s resilience is heightened as we all struggle to find meaning in a world with unforeseen events – terrorism; senseless acts of violence; natural disasters such as tsunamis, flooding, hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes; economic hardships echoing around the world…poverty, war.

When faced with catastrophic events, we not only see how strong we are as individuals – we see how strong our communities are. And how strong the entire eco-system is…or is not, as we were reminded during Hurricane Katrina when the U.S. failed to effectively manage a crisis of great magnitude.

You see, we are only as strong as the friendships and the networks we grow. We are only as strong as the communities we develop. Our communities are only as strong as the sustainable foundations we build.  And our own careers and livelihoods are only as strong as our ability to continue learning, meet challenges, and bounce back for another day.

Resilience…You’ll see it reflected in our student body again and again. Julie McGinnity and her guide dog, Brie, a yellow Lab, have become a familiar duo on the Webster campus over the last few years. Julie, blind since birth, graduates today with two degrees – one in Music and one in German. Julie is a gifted soprano who excels at opera…and learned to read music in Braille at Webster.

Resilience. Steven Moya from Temple, Texas - receives an MA in Procurement & Acquisitions Management today. Steven receives his degree through entirely online classes. He found it was challenging to get work turned in on time. There never seemed to be enough time in his schedule. You see, Steven was deployed in Iraq through several classes and found that in order to succeed in his studies, he had to plan 2-3 weeks ahead based on his military mission.

And then there is Olive. Olive Mukabalisa graduates today with a Master’s Degree in International Relations. She survived Genocide in her home country of Rwanda. She witnessed death and destruction and horrors that no person anywhere should endure. Yet she did. And through the goodwill of others, she came to Webster University and today is a shining example of what resilience really looks like as she sets her course to help others.

At the end of your day today when your festivities are concluded, I encourage you to reflect on the resilience that brought you to Webster and that has become part of who you are.  We admire you for this quality and know you would not be here today without a reservoir of resilience for your future.

Your Webster University degree connects you to all members of the global Class of 2013 all classes that came before you and those that will follow you. You are now part of a strong and powerful network of lifelong learners who have the ability to adapt to adversity and create a better future. We support each other. We give back to our communities. We are generous – with our time and with our philanthropic efforts.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of this graduating class who now joins the resilient Webster network: Worldwide, we have 7,210 students graduating this academic year, celebrating at this commencement and more than 50 commencement ceremonies at our campus locations bringing Webster to communities around the world. Of this great class of 7,000, more than 1,000 graduates are here today with families and friends. Good for you. Of those here today, 174 of you have come here from our extended campuses to celebrate with the rest of your worldwide classmates. One hundred and forty members of the class here today have earned degrees mostly online. From points around the world, these students studied and interacted with our faculty and students online. They have come to us today from as far as Ethiopia, and within the U.S., from San Jose, California, to Brooklyn, New York. Welcome, all of you! Webster is a first choice for students who are in our armed services, with some 6,000 students either active or retired military. I am proud to say 64 of this year’s graduates are currently stationed overseas, completing their degrees while they serve our country. Overall, our graduates represent 106 countries, 49 U.S. States – we’ll have to work on New Hampshire – plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In reaching so many people and communities around the world, we know Webster is a special university. And that global connection and local commitment starts at home: 33 of today’s graduates are Webster employees, while another 38 are spouses or children of our faculty and staff.

This is a truly impressive global community. And it’s academically strong and demographically diverse: Our oldest graduate is 75 years old, earning an MBA degree at our Fayetteville, Arkansas location. Our youngest is 19 years old, earning a BS in Business Administration at our Vienna, Austria campus. Two hundred and twenty-two of our graduate students are receiving Graduate Academic Honors; 138 of our undergraduates are graduating with University Academic Honors. Impressive. Consider what these numbers represent. Webster classrooms are infused with the perspectives of outstanding students from cultures across the globe.

From face-to-face learning to virtual connections from stations abroad, you truly represent the spirit and mission of Webster: To transform students from all over the world for global citizenship and individual excellence. So I congratulate you, graduates. Today you join a strong alumni network and 93 classes of engaged, lifelong learners just like you.

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To our graduates here today, I invite you take this in for a moment. Look around this theatre at all the people who supported you along the way your family, spouses, children, friends, coworkers, and fellow students who stood by you and made sacrifices so you could realize your dream. Will all the people who supported these graduates please stand, so we can thank you all together.

You will also see the Webster community. Behind me are the distinguished and dedicated Board of Trustee members, faculty members and administrators who created engaging learning environments for you. I invite them to stand and be recognized. Also sharing in your joy are staff members that you met along the way. Many of them are here today serving in different roles as ushers and guides.

In the years that we share together here at Webster, we build common bonds and are now connected for life through our common values and ideals. We are global citizens and we are connected through our global community. Keep in your heart and your spirit the dignity, the responsibility, and yes, the resilience you must now carry forward to find what needs to be changed in this world, sometimes starting with yourself, and change it. Thank you for attending the 94th Commencement Ceremony of Webster University.


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