Fayetteville Commencement

Good evening, 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 all are here.

I traveled here from St. Louis, where you know Webster University was founded in 1915. But obviously over the past 100 years we grew a little beyond that. We have grown to reflect and serve our communities as they change, just as you are growing and adapting as evidenced by your pursuing this degree.

Today we are truly one university that is intertwined with communities like this across the Midwest, throughout the United States and around the world-- One University in 60 cities, eight countries and four continents.  And you are part of that community of learners and, as of today, proud graduates.

So on behalf of our board of trustees and the entire Webster community of faculty and staff here in northwest Arkansas and around the world, I congratulate you. I am thrilled to be able to celebrate this with you.

Graduates, today marks an important transition in your life. Roger mentioned how rare it is to earn a master’s degree, and what a significant commitment and achievement that is. You are now prepared to advance your career, or for some of you to change your career entirely, in 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 with a college degree – 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.

Roger spoke to a word that aptly describes this community – perseverance. Certainly you all have been through a lot this year, and it has required perseverance to get to this point. As we have seen in this community, and as we are seeing in Oklahoma, persevering also requires another quality: 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.

You know who defines a lifelong determination to learning and meet whatever challenges come along? Dr. Rodney Riley, who is in our graduating class today. Dr. Riley already has his Ph.D, was a master sergeant, and is a beloved Management professor here to so many of you. But that does not mean he has stopped learning. He has earned his MBA, and in fact, without betraying his age, let me just share with you something about him that I think is remarkable: Out of more than 7,200 students worldwide who are graduating from Webster this year, Dr. Riley is the oldest. The youngest, graduating in Vienna, Austria, is 19.

Among you today we also have we have two active army majors who are walking in their dress military uniforms. Serving our country and earning your master’s at the same time – talk about perseverance! Art Stringer and Lorne Kelley are earning their MA in Management & Leadership today. Lorne is graduating with double cords, and I understand Art is on schedule to graduate with honors but has one more class to fit into his busy schedule. Congratulations.

Webster is a first choice for students like Art and Lorne who are in our armed services. Worldwide we have some 6,000 students either active or retired military. In fact, 64 of this year’s graduates are currently stationed overseas, completing their degrees while serving abroad. Overall, our graduates represent 106 countries, 49 U.S. States, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is an impressive, accomplished network you have joined. You vary not just in age, but in interests, socioeconomic background, and outlook.

There are more than 50 of you here today, but you are part of that 7,000-strong worldwide Webster University Class of 2013. And you join a network of more than 157,000 living Webster University alumni. Among the many graduates like you that we celebrated at our ceremony in St. Louis earlier this month, was a remarkable young woman named Olive. Originally from Rwanda, Olive Mukabalisa graduated with a Master’s Degree in International Relations. Before she came to Webster, she survived genocide in her home country.

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 now is a shining example of what resilience really looks like as she sets her course to help others. You have not met her, but she is your classmate too. She is an example of the power of the Webster University network.

Look at our Outstanding Graduates honored here tonight, including Jyoti Prakash Malik, who you will hear from in just a moment. With his MBA from Webster, Jyoti is earning his third academic degree tonight, having come to the United States from India and now making his home here in Bentonville with his wife and child – and I hear another one is on the way. Congratulations!

For all of you tonight, when the festivities have concluded and your evening is over, 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.

You know some of the stories that brought you to study with Webster in Arkansas. I can tell you there are stories like this with students like you in 60 cities on three continents around the world. (And we will have a fourth continent when we open a new campus in Ghana next fall!) Wherever these stories begin, they continue in Webster classrooms that 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. You make all of us proud.