Jacksonville Commencement

Greetings, 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 left their home in Kentucky to meet a need for educational opportunity – in this case, for women west of the Mississippi. These pioneers took on a challenge that was new to them—starting and building a college—and to those in the St. Louis region. When the first Webster building was constructed, the city of Webster Groves had dirt roads and women could not yet vote. Our founders were true entrepreneurs, and 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 men and women undergraduates and graduates from 148 countries with the latest academic curriculum, research and market-responsive programming.

And this year we celebrate 40 years of our providing education programs directly to military service members. Our relationship with the military encompasses nearly half the history of this institution. Today you are formally joining a proud tradition, one shared by more than 176,000 alumni worldwide, of people who have turned to Webster for high-quality learning experiences that transform them for global citizenship and individual excellence.

And that is why it is my pleasure to be with you for this special day. 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 thousands of students and alumni like yourselves, and working with directors like Cristina Echeverry, who directs the wonderful staff and outstanding faculty who have helped you here advance your goals here in the North Florida region.

During my visit here, it has been a thrill to hear about the outstanding accomplishments of this student body, as well as its rich diversity. Among the more than 125 earning degrees today, some of you are active or retired service members. Others are civilians and contractors. Perhaps you’re building or extending a long-term career in the North Florida region; or perhaps this is a stop on your journey to even bigger things elsewhere.

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, staff and alumni sharing their knowledge and experience from all walks of life.

I know some of you attended the entrepreneurial seminar earlier this spring that was hosted by several of our Webster alumni who are local business owners here. The alumni who spoke that day represented entrepreneurs from industries like real estate, food service and consumer products – and by returning to Webster to speak with current students, they exemplified this culture of connecting and sharing what they’ve learned in their own careers.

Today is formally the commencement ceremony for Webster’s Jacksonville and Naval Air Station campuses, but of here at Webster, the concept of “home” is everywhere. Today’s ceremony also includes graduates from Hunter Air Force Base, Shaw Air Force Base, Andrews Air Force Base, as well as many who pursued their degree online. In fact, one of our online students has traveled from Hawaii to be here with us today and celebrate this achievement in person.

Webster’s mission statement focuses on the kinds of learning experiences we provide that transform students for individual excellence and global citizenship. Each of you has a unique story about your individual goals and the excellence you want to achieve in your life and career.  What binds us as a Webster community is our desire to see the world as our home and the preparation we have to make ourselves at home in the world.  The world that needs those of us who seek to meet others’ needs in the same way our founders established a university that has grown to meet our needs.

There are so many success stories from our graduates and alumni in the North Florida region and beyond, each of them building on each other and expanding the prestige of your Webster degree. As you join them as Webster University alumni, and as you go on to build connections with local industry and community organizations, you’re furthering the mission that this institution was founded upon, and you’re giving back to the legacy of Webster University.

What does this dedicated community of support from faculty, staff and alumni 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…there is almost no one you cannot get along with. Those are words borne of experiences with individuals, families, communities, and nations around the globe. They apply in Atlanta, they apply in Washington, and certainly they apply here in Florida and all around the world.

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 piece, building communities that include and celebrate the vast range of 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. Through your interactions with the diversity of Webster students, faculty, and staff you have glimpsed the human need that compels us to embrace others’ needs as our own for the future of the world we leave for those who come behind us.

Congratulations, Webster graduates. You are now equipped to be a truly global citizen.

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