Shaw Air Force Base Commencement Address

Greetings, graduates! Friends and family of graduates, faculty and staff, and everyone assembled here today. Class of 2013, you will hear this many times today, but each time is well deserved and well earned. Congratulations! This is a day to celebrate, a moment to remember, a chance to reflect on all you have done to get to this point. It is because of your achievements that we all are here to salute you.

I arrived at Shaw from Webster’s original campus in St. Louis, so it is an honor to be here. In particular, I appreciated the to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Webster’s Shaw location. Yesterday, Col. Arcuira was kind enough to help us commemorate 10 years here. But while celebrating ten years at this location is outstanding, the true honor for me today, and the reason I am here as Webster’s president, is to celebrate you! Just as Webster University is a part of your own personal journey, you too are a part of Webster’s story. You’re why we have partnered with Shaw for 10 years, reaching hundreds of students in that time. 

Webster University’s home campus is in St. Louis, where this institution was founded in 1915. But obviously over the next 100 years we grew a little beyond that. I am not sure whether the Loretto Sisters who founded Webster ever dreamed we would be in South Carolina 100 years later. But one thing they believed then, and we still believe today: It is essential to address educational opportunities where there is a need. As we all know, our communities evolve, and people’s needs change.

At Webster we have grown to reflect and serve our communities as they change, just as you are growing and adapting in your career, as demonstrated by your pursuing this degree. Today, I can tell you as President, Webster is truly one big community with local and global reach. It is intertwined with communities like this one, literally coast to coast in the United States and on four continents around the world. Today you are members of this community as inquisitive learners but also, as of today, proud graduates of Webster University.

That means you have several dozen graduates with you here today. But do you know what else it means? You have 155,000 fellow Webster alumni! These alumni are not just the ones sitting right next to you, nor just the ones who sat in your chair last summer at this time.

They are not limited to those throughout the armed forces, with which Webster has partnered for the past 40 years. They are not limited to Webster’s South Carolina locations nor our other communities around the United States. Rather, your fellow alumni are here, there and everywhere throughout the whole world.

Because graduates, today marks an important transition in your life. You are now prepared to advance your career, or for some of you to prepare for a new career, 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.

I think about how some of you graduating today have participated in the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), and how that program was designed to connect students with needs in the federal workforce. Some of you are completing undergraduate degrees, recognizing the value of that brings in today’s world. It is an ever-changing world we live in, requiring changing skills and the ability to adapt quickly.

In several surveys over the past few years, employers from the private and public sector have emphasized the need for “soft skills” – for individuals who, in addition to specialized competencies, also exhibit critical thinking and the ability to communicate clearly and solve complex problems. They talk about not just the “three R’s” today but the “four C’s”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Whether it is a specialized graduate degree or general undergraduate degree you have completed today, because you have completed it at Webster University degree, you know it is designed to strengthen these soft skills and equip you to compete on a world stage, wherever your career stations you next.

In my tenure as President I have met many students and graduates like you. So I know that whether your focus was Business, or IT, or Procurement, or Human Resources, or Counseling or another degree offered at Shaw, Fort Jackson, or Columbia, what you have achieved today required another skill: perseverance. Perseverance requires many things. The drive to get up and accomplish your tasks each day. To take care of home, work, family and school needs. It also requires being flexible and refusing to let life’s curveballs discourage you. It requires adapting to the things we expect each day, as well as the things we don’t see coming.

In a word: Resilience. Resilience is a complex topic. The educational dialogue about how to develop an individual’s resilience is fanned 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. Our nation saw an example in Boston earlier this year, as civilians and armed personnel alike responded and rose above unexpected violence at the Boston Marathon.

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, to meet challenges, and to bounce back for another day.

As Webster graduates, you are part of a strong community that spans near and far, locally and globally. There are about 40 of you here today, and you are part of more than 7,200 worldwide who are graduating from Webster this year. The oldest graduate was 74 years old in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The youngest? Just 19, earning his degree in Vienna, Austria. And so many of you are members of our armed services, or civil servants, or spouses of service members. Webster seeks to be a first choice for military, because we have grown through our partnership with the armed services and their families. 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. And I know some of you today are spouses of service members, finishing your degree before your family moves to your next station. Whether in the classroom, online or hopping from one campus to the next, we like to think Webster has the answer you need, whether you’re advancing your existing career or starting a new one. 

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, elite network you have joined. You vary not just in age, but in interests, socioeconomic background, and outlook. I mentioned our youngest and oldest graduate from this year’s class, but I want to tell you a story about who might be our most resilient. Back in St. Louis, earning a master’s degree just like many of you, was a remarkable young woman named Olive. Originally from Rwanda, Olive Mukabalisa graduated with her master’s in International Relations a few months ago. Before she came to Webster, Olive survived genocide in her home country. She witnessed death and destruction and horrors that no person anywhere should endure. Yet she did. She endured. And she made a new life for herself. 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. I mention her because although you have not met her, Olive is your classmate too. She is an example of the power of the Webster University network.

For all of you here today, when the festivities have concluded and your graduation weekend 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. I encourage you to tap this alumni network to help you adapt to adversity and create a better future for yourselves and for your communities. At Webster, we support each other. We give back. We are generous – with our time and with our philanthropic efforts.

I know each of you has a story that brought you to study at Webster here in South Carolina. I can tell you there are stories like this with students like you in 60 cities on four continents around the world. There is power in that, and you never know when you will come to lean on – or to help – another Webster graduate.

That is why it pleases me so much to be here. 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 once again, on behalf of our board of trustees and the entire Webster community of faculty and staff here in South Carolina and across the globe, I congratulate you. It is a wonderful achievement of yours that we celebrate today. You make your families proud, you make all of us at Webster proud. We look forward to hearing what comes next for you. Because we all know from what you have already shown us, the best is yet to come.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Webster University and with the recommendation of the University faculty, I hereby confer upon each member of the Class of 2013, the bachelor’s or master’s degrees with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities pertaining thereto. Your names will be permanently entered on the rolls as an alumnus and alumna of Webster University.