University News

2012 Fall Commencement Address
President Jack Thomas - December 15, 2012

Explore, Dream, Discover, and Enjoy the Journey

Good Afternoon, and welcome to the 2012 fall commencement here at Western Illinois University. This is a very important and significant event. This graduation ceremony is the beginning of a new journey for our graduates.

We take pride in Western Illinois University. We take pride in our core values: Academic Excellence, Educational Opportunity, Personal Growth, and Social Responsibility. Graduates, take pride in your alma mater. Western Illinois University continues to receive national accolades from U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, Forbes Magazine, Military Times EDGE Magazine, and GI Jobs Magazine. We have also been recognized by the Education Trust, the Southern Regional Education Board, and HCM Strategists. These recognitions showcase both our achievements as a University and your achievements as students.

You should be proud of the progress we have made by improving facilities and beautifying our campus. We will continue to focus on our capital projects: the construction and completion of the Performing Arts Center in Macomb, and the completion of Phases II and III of the Riverfront campus in the Quad Cities. We will pursue a new science complex in the near future. We are working to beautify the North side of campus, by building a Welcome Center and a major design to create an aesthetically pleasing view of the entrance of campus.

We are most thankful for the support provided to our university by our alumni, friends, and corporate partners. We have had another record-breaking fundraising year and to date, we have raised $54 million of our $60 million comprehensive campaign goal. In these times of austerity, many individuals continue to generously give financial gifts and other contributions to the University and for which we are extremely grateful. Students, take pride in the fact that you have received a quality and well-rounded education here at Western Illinois University.

An old Chinese proverb says that, "Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, that we forget the journey." Humorist Mark Twain once said, "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, and Discover."

The word "commencement" means the beginning or the start of something. These commencement exercises are the beginning of your new journey. In this commencement address, I use the term "journey" as a metaphor for life. Before one embarks on a journey, there must be preparation. If traveling internationally, the preparation consists of purchasing a plane ticket, packing a suitcase, making hotel accommodations, and taking one's passport. At Western Illinois University, we have prepared you for your journey. Your degree from Western Illinois University is your ticket and your passport to success. Your mind is your suitcase. At Western, academic excellence and educational opportunity are now in your suitcase. Our faculty members have helped you pack your suitcase with knowledge from your courses of study from this fine institution. From the sciences to the humanities, from the fine arts to technology, from education to human services, your suitcase has been packed with essential knowledge from your courses and the college experience in general. You are prepared for your journey because you have earned a degree from Western, so speak well of Western Illinois University when you reminisce of the time you spent here on campus. Cherish those moments and memories. Explore, Dream, Discover, and Enjoy the Journey.

Though you all have completed a Western Illinois University education, many of you did not start from the same place. Some came to this University from large metropolitan areas, and other individuals came from small rural farmland communities. It does not matter where you began your journey, it matters where you are right now.

Clergyman and social reformer, Henry Ward Beecher once said that, "We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started." Explore, Dream, Discover, and Enjoy the Journey.

Many of you will journey successfully to your destination. These successes will encompass a wide range of fields. Some of you may become the next great scientist or researcher and discover the cure for Alzheimer's or for various forms of cancer. Some of you may become the next great computer engineer and discover the next device that will replace cell phones. Some of you may become the next great author and write the next great novel or textbook. Others may create the next great Fortune 500 company, and make a large donation to Western Illinois University. Wherever your journey takes you, Western has prepared you for this journey.

As you are on this journey, enjoy it and embrace it. So many people go through life working to achieve goal after goal and when they reach their goal, they have squandered all of their time, energy, and focus on the goal and have not enjoyed the journey. You have reached a milestone in achieving this goal of graduating from Western Illinois University. However, just because you are looking marvelous in your cap and gown, you are about to walk across this stage, shake my hand, and receive a diploma, these actions do not mean that you should stop learning. As a graduate of Western Illinois University, you must be a life-long learner and explore. I believe that Mark Twain's statement provides us with some excellent advice. "Explore! Dream! Discover!"

On this journey, you must explore life. Explore life's twists and turns. On this journey, you must not be afraid of the unknown. You must be a life-long learner and explore new cultures, people, and ideas. Explore, Dream, Discover, and Enjoy the Journey.

On this journey, you must dream. I implore you to dream and dream big. Dream the impossible dream, and then enjoy passionately pursuing this dream. Former President of Morehouse College, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays said, "It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your [idea], but it is a disaster to have no [idea] to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach. Not failure, but low aim is sin." You must propel yourselves to greatness and dream an impossible dream and then just make it happen.

On this journey, you should not become complacent and satisfied with being average. Although average is better than the worst, it is also worse than the best and you should strive to be the very best. I believe that we should appreciate old things, but we should discover new things about our world and ourselves. Self-discovery can be a wonderful occurrence. At Western, you have had the opportunity for personal growth and you have learned to be socially responsible. Self-discovery is the act or process of achieving an understanding or knowledge of oneself. It is a form of personal growth. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know what makes you happy and know what makes you sad.

In a drama, a journey of self-discovery is sometimes used to drive the plot of a play or film. Let self-discovery and discovery of the world serve as motivation in learning to love yourself and to love others unconditionally. Western has given you an industrious spirit and a competitive edge. Always be mindful that you are a product of Western Illinois University and a representative of our university. We want the world to know that graduates from Western Illinois University are intellectual beings and hard workers. If things get difficult on your journey, stay the course and persevere because one day you will look back and appreciate the lessons learned. Don't get lost on your journey, but if you do get lost find a map and get back on course. Know that Western Illinois University will always be your second home. Let us hear from you. Tell us about all those wonderful and positive things you are doing in life. Know that you are a product of this fine institution, Western Illinois University.

Finally, in 1970, the last number one hit in the United States for the Beatles was a song entitled, The Long and Winding Road. The lyrics of the song are (and don't worry, I am not going to sing it),

The long and winding road
That leads to your door.
Will never disappear.
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here.
Lead me to your door.

Graduates, may the long and winding road lead you to success. While on the rest of your journey, may you return and visit our door at Western Illinois University.

Explore, Dream, Discover, and Enjoy the Journey. Thank you!