University News

You Made the Right Choice

2017 Fall Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, December 16, 2017

Graduates, members of the faculty and staff, board of trustees, and distinguished guests, welcome to Western Illinois University. Thank you for being with us today as we celebrate the accomplishments of these graduates as they commence from one stage of life to another. Graduates, I’m sure you are excited about your success. Give yourselves a round of applause. Parents and guardians, there is no doubt that you are proud of your sons and daughters today, and I know that you are delighted that you have one less bill to pay. Let’s give our graduates a round of applause.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations once said, "Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” Parents, thank you for trusting us with educating your sons and daughters. I’m sure that many of you remember me saying, some years ago, in my Freshman convocation address telling you to go home. Go home knowing that your sons and daughters were in good hands, and indeed they were.

Faculty and staff, thank you for educating these wonderful graduates. I extend my gratitude and appreciation to everyone who ensures that this University continues to be ranked as a “Best Midwestern College” and as a “Best Regional University” by The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report. Western Illinois University also continues to be named a "Best College" by Military Times and as a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs Magazine.

Take pride in the fact that you attended a University that provided you with a world-class education. We remain committed to serving all students who meet our standards, by providing a high-quality and well-rounded education.

Graduates, as you transition to the next phase of your life, mention Western Illinois University with great pride. Recognize the role it plays in your future endeavors, and continue to build the reputation of this institution through your future accomplishments.

This year, we started the “Right Choice” marketing campaign. You may have seen signs all over the state, saying that Western Illinois University is the right choice. And yes, graduating from Western Illinois University IS the right choice!

When you chose Western, you made the right choice because this University is an incubator for academic excellence. You had the opportunity to learn from world-class educators who are experts in their fields. You had access to outstanding and unique academic programs that have prepared you for life beyond Western Illinois University. You have won awards for your work, and you have been recognized for your accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. You have exemplified academic excellence. And yes, the walk through Q-Lot in the snow may not have been pleasant, but your attendance here today lets me know that you made it.

When you chose Western, you made the right choice because of the incredible educational opportunities provided here. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” Your life has been influenced by the educational opportunities encountered here in ways that will last a lifetime. At this University, you learned to think critically for yourselves, conduct research, analyze data, express your opinions, appreciate diversity and diverse cultures, and use newly acquired skills and knowledge to make this world a better place. You participated in peer and mentor relationships. The potential for network development has provided you with a firm foundation for future professional and personal success. The State of Illinois, your professors, administrators and staff members spent a great deal of time and resources investing in your success, so go forth, and make the most of that investment. As Drake says, “You started from the bottom, and now you’re here.” Make us proud.

When you chose Western, you made the right choice because you have experienced tremendous personal growth during your time here. Hopefully you, like Aaliyah, learned that, “if at first you don't succeed, then dust yourself off and try again!” Personal growth comes from learning from failure and striving for excellence in all that you do. At Western, personal growth has come as you expanded your worldview. You have learned from others from different cultures and backgrounds. You have built relationships with others. You may have studied abroad. Because of Western's investment in your development - academically, socially, emotionally - as well as the opportunities you created for yourself here, you have grown tremendously. You now walk out of these doors a different person than when you first began attending this fine University.

When you chose Western, you made the right choice because of the vast opportunities you have had to help others while practicing social responsibility. You have made a difference in the lives of others through class projects, volunteer work, and community engagement. You have lent a helping hand and provided support for people of all ages, races, nationalities and creeds. You have demonstrated kindness, compassion, caring, and helpfulness. You have been role models of Leatherneck Pride.

American author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury penned a short story titled, “The Last Night of the World.” The story begins with a husband asking his wife, “What would you do if you knew that this was the last night of the world?” In the course of the story they come to understand that it really was their last day on earth, yet they continued along with their normal routines. Although they understood that it was their last night on earth, they felt no sense of urgency to try something new or reach for the extraordinary.

At one point, as the husband and wife consider their apocalyptic fate, the husband asks, “We haven't been too bad, have we?” To this, his wife responds, “No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble. We haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.”

Graduates, Western taught you to be committed to and promote equity, social justice, and diversity, and to maintain the highest standards of integrity in working with others. We provided an environment that fosters and promotes civic engagement. We encouraged you to contribute to educational, cultural, environmental, community, and economic development throughout the world. Continue to break out of your mundane routines, and persist in being a socially responsible citizen, dedicated to serving those around you.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Graduates, as you go forth this day, I want to leave you with these words from the people’s poet, Edgar Albert Guest, who says:

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin on his face.
If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Graduates, you made the right choice in choosing Western Illinois University and graduating from this fine University. You tackled the thing and you did it! May you find joy.

May you find peace. And may you find happiness as you work and plan with determination for a successful future. As you move forward in this life, remember to continue to “make the right choice.” Thank you and I wish you well in your endeavors!