Fort Belvoir Commencement

Good morning, graduates! We have assembled today in your honor.

As president of this worldwide institution, which educates students like you in 60 cities, eight countries and four continents around the world, it is my good fortune to see you in this particular place, at this pivotal point, in your impressive life’s journey. Look around you and you will see friends, family members, classmates, faculty and staff members who share in that fortune – all vested in your success. We are all so proud of you and your accomplishment. You represent hope for our future – and the excitement of our present.

As you may know, Webster was founded nearly 100 years ago in St. Louis, by Catholic nuns, who identified a need for educational opportunity – in this case, for women west of the Mississippi. I am proud, and you should be proud, to know that Webster has continued in that pioneering spirit each year since. Once it was a small undergraduate college for women in a suburb of St. Louis. Today it is a global university serving undergraduates and graduates from 148 countries with the latest academic curriculum, research and market-responsive programming.

You may have heard of our new Cybersecurity master’s program launching this year – that’s just the latest way this University has adapted and evolved to meet the changing needs of our communities. Your joining a proud tradition, one shared by more than 172,000 alumni worldwide, of people who have turned to Webster for high-quality learning experiences that transform them for global citizenship and individual excellence.

While my office is at our home campus in St. Louis – in one of the original buildings, in fact – my role as president includes traveling the world meeting students and alumni like yourselves, and working with directors like Sean Coleman, who directs the wonderful staff and outstanding faculty you have here in the D.C. area.

It is a thrill to hear about the outstanding accomplishments of this student body, as well as its rich diversity. Among the more than 250 earning degrees from our D.C. area campuses this year, some of you are active or retired service members. Others are civilians and contractors. Maybe you’re building or extending a long-term career in the capital region; maybe this is a stop on your journey to even bigger things.

Whichever your role, whatever your career goals, the beauty of what you bring to Webster, and what you found here as you pursued your degree, is this inspiring mix of students, faculty and staff sharing their knowledge and experience from all walks of life.

I’m thinking, for example, of the six students who formed the winning Capsim team that claimed the top spot in this year’s competition, beating 1,631 other teams. Congratulations to the “Super Six,” their accomplishment reflects well on all of our graduates.

I’m thinking also of Marvin Worsham. a member of this year’s class who was a finalist for the Presidential Management Fellowship(PMF) for 2014. To be selected as a finalist out of 7,000 applicants for this prestigious program is remarkable.

There are so many success stories from our graduates and alumni in this area, each of them building on each other and expanding the prestige of your Webster degree. And of course who could speak of this success without mentioning the great, dedicated Webster faculty who bring their professional insight to the classroom.

Another piece of Webster history you may not know: The William T. Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching is the most coveted honor for faculty at Webster University, and only four are awarded each year. You just happen to have two recent winners among you. Leon Hutton – who taught the capsim students I mentioned earlier – and Jack Delman were each winners in 2013, a recognition of their fine teaching and dedication to their students

What do these inspiring faculty, these great classmates, this dedicated community of support – what do they all mean for you today? To me they are examples of what can happen when people unite to work toward a common goal.

What I am referring to may not be captured in a textbook. It might not be included in classroom discussion. You will likely not find it online. And you will most likely not find it in the evening news. But I am talking about something very essential to success: the power and self-fulfillment that comes with being the person who unites – not divides.

The person who invites people to the table – seeking individuals from globally diverse backgrounds, beliefs, cultures and heritage, to come to shared understandings.

With your diverse professional backgrounds, your enlightening education, and your breadth of aspirations, you can play an important role—that of convener – for the purpose of discussion, reflection, empathy, insight and wisdom.

This past winter, Ambassador Andrew Young visited our St. Louis campus and shared his experiences as a civil rights leader, U.S. congressman, United Nations ambassador, and mayor of Atlanta. He urged us to learn that the most basic lesson in life is to listen to the people, respect people, and take time to understand mutual differences. And if you do this…you will be able to work with almost everyone.

I know we are in a region where politics makes headlines when things are most divided, but those words come from a man who spent plenty of time in Washington. They are words borne of experiences with individuals, families, communities, and nations around the globe.

Graduates, as you embrace this new chapter in your life, you already know the world’s imperfections. The world is far from perfect, and we cannot make it perfect, even if we could agree on such a course of action.

We can embrace life’s imperfections and celebrate the distinctions that make life a rich experience, all the while seeking opportunities to bring greater harmony and peace, building communities that include and celebrate the vast range of unique human experience.

In the Webster University class of 2014, there are a few hundred graduates in this capital region. There are a few thousand in and around St. Louis. There are more than 7,000 of you gathering for ceremonies like this around the world. Every single one of you should take confidence in knowing that you can be a difference maker.

The Dalai Lama XIV is quoted as saying: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

As a Webster University graduate, you have the ability to find that common bond of humanity that seeks peace within yourself and with others through dialogue, education, and knowledge. You are now equipped to be a truly global citizen.

Thank you.

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