University News

Seize the Opportunity

Fall 2018 Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, December 15, 2018

Good morning/afternoon. Graduates, we are pleased to honor you at Western Illinois University’s 2018 Fall Commencement. Graduation is one of the most invigorating times on a university campus as students graduate and walk across the stage to receive their degrees. Graduates, your grit and determination enabled you to devote time and energy to your respective programs, and we are proud of your success. An ancient proverb says that opportunities don’t just happen, they are created. Today, we celebrate the opportunities our graduates created. Let’s give our graduates a round of applause.

Every rewarding endeavor is achieved with the assistance and the support of others. Graduates, your family and friends, and Western’s faculty and staff have supported and encouraged you throughout your time at this University. Because of this support, you now stand at the entrance to a promising future, so you should take this opportunity to thank your mothers, your fathers, your grandmothers and your grandfathers, your brothers and your sisters, and all those who have supported you along the way. Give them a round of applause.

As I pondered this commencement address, I reflected upon Western’s history. You are now an integral part of this University’s distinguished and accomplished 118-year history. Through challenging times, as well as during prosperous times, several principles have kept this University and those associated with it moving forward. Today I remind you of the principles that will keep you moving forward while striving to achieve your dreams and goals. To move forward, seize the opportunity to take advantage of new beginnings. To move forward, seize the opportunity to be bold. To move forward, seize the opportunity to overcome inner obstacles. And, to move forward, seize the opportunity to work.

Seize the Opportunity to Take Advantage of New Beginnings

These commencement exercises are symbolic of a new beginning for each graduate. By completing your degree, you will have access to increased opportunities and newly opened doors. Seize the opportunity to take advantage of new beginnings. New beginnings are rare moments in a lifetime. When you leave this fine University, you have a fresh slate and new opportunities to excel. You seized the opportunity to complete an undergraduate or graduate degree from Western Illinois University, so continue to take advantage of those opportunities that accompany each new beginning.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that, “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” Sometimes you will have to persevere and keep knocking to have opportunity open a door for you. Let your passion motivate you to knock on that door and grasp that opportunity. Let your determination drive you to continue knocking when it appears that the door of opportunity may be closing. Above all, seize the opportunity to begin anew as this chapter in your life concludes.

Seize the Opportunity to Be Bold

I have learned that opportunities are presented to those who are bold enough to knock and bold enough to never give up. Recently, I read a story about Brandon Stanton, who flunked out of the University of Georgia, but eventually returned and graduated with a degree in History. Following graduation, he moved to Chicago to work as a bond trader, but never felt the fulfillment he sought from a career. As a hobby, he took pictures of people in downtown Chicago on the weekends.

When Brandon lost his job in Chicago, he moved to New York and set a goal to photograph 10,000 individuals and plot their portraits on a map of New York City. During this time, he survived by being resourceful and relying on the kindness of family and friends. Eventually, he created the Humans of New York Facebook page (perhaps you have heard of it). Because Brandon seized the opportunity to be bold and pursue his passion, he has now published a New York Times number one best seller and was named one of Time Magazine’s, “30 Under 30 People Changing The World.”

Graduates, you can change the world. Seize the opportunity to be bold because boldness feeds your dreams and starves your fears. Boldness builds your confidence, and drives you toward success. The world is waiting for you to mold it into the shape you imagine, so seize the opportunity to be bold.

Seize the Opportunity to Overcome Inner Obstacles

Even those individuals who boldly pursue their passion and achieve a measure of success may have to deal with inner obstacles, which may hinder them from reaching their full potential. The inner obstacles which tend to impede us the most are fear and doubt, dwelling too much on the past, being pessimistic, and seeking the approval of others.

At this time of change in your life, some of you may be apprehensive about what the future holds. Dwelling on fear and doubt is not the solution. Setting goals and putting your heart and soul into realizing them will cause fear and doubt to dissipate. Dwelling on the past may also prevent you from working in the now to attain a hopeful future. The past should give you roots, but the past is complete, and your future is right before you. Focus on what you can control, adjust to the things you cannot, and get to work.

Pessimism is closely related to focusing on fear and doubt and dwelling on negative events from the past. It is “the tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.” To overcome pessimism, you can read inspiring stories, focus on the many possibilities, become engaged in a cause in which you believe, entertain positive words and thoughts, and open your mind to unexpected opportunities and outcomes.

We often look to others to help evaluate our lives. Acting how other people expect you to act might make them like you for a moment, but it will never provide lasting happiness. It will never bestow upon you the passion and determination you need to reach your full potential. Be bold and follow what you think is right as you pursue your passions.

Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Seize the opportunity to overcome the inner obstacles of fear and doubt, dwelling negatively on the past, being overly pessimistic, and seeking the approval of others.

Seize the Opportunity to Work

My next piece of advice comes from Australian rapper, singer, and songwriter, Iggy Azalea. Her debut single is autobiographical and details her early life when she emigrated to the United States without her family. According to Iggy, she seized the opportunity to work, work, work, work. Graduates, in order to receive the utmost benefit from your Western degrees, continue to put forth effort and work, work, work, work.

During your college career, you spent an abundance of energy studying. You attended your classes, completed your assignments and projects, and managed your time wisely. During your time at Western, you had to work academically, you had to work as you took part in student organizations, and in many cases, you had to work outside of the University to meet your financial obligations. I have seen you working at Sodexo, McAllister’s, Chicks, Hy-Vee, Larry A’s and of course, the mall of Macomb–Wal-Mart.

Graduation does not mean that your work is done. Your work has only just begun. Am I right parents? To be successful, continue to work and strive every day to achieve your goals and implement the changes the world needs at this time. And don’t forget, once you get your first paycheck, take your parents out to dinner and pick up the tab. Graduates, boldly seize the opportunity to work as you embark upon a new beginning.

Finally, I want to leave you with these words, “Timely people get opportunities, brave people create opportunities, and winners are those who convert problems into opportunities.” Today marks a new beginning, so seize future opportunities, seize the opportunity to be bold in creating those opportunities for yourself, seize the opportunity to overcome your inner obstacles, and seize the opportunity to work. These principles will guide you through the good times and the bad times, through the peaks and the valleys, and through the hardships and the successes. Thank you, I wish you continued success in your future endeavors, and as Post Malone says, “congratulations.”