2013 Spring Undergraduate Commencement Address
President Jack Thomas - May 11, 2013 - Macomb, Illinois
Western Love, Western Loyalty, and Western Legacy
This is one of the most exciting times on a University campus when students graduate and cross the stage to receive their degrees. John Dunning once said, "No man or [woman] is an island" and you did not make it to this moment on your own. So give your supporters a round of applause. As the 11th president of this great university, I want to welcome you to one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the world.
The title of our university's alma mater is Western Loyalty. Walter P. Morgan, the third and longest serving president (1912 until 1943), wrote the words for the school song in 1930, and the words were set to music by Harold F. Schory. In 1994, Kathy Cavins, a University administrator, and Tim Krug, a music graduate student, added a verse to the song to make it more contemporary. The music was edited by James Caldwell, a current member of the music faculty. I penned this commencement address with the words of our alma mater in the forefront of my consciousness with this thought guiding this address entitled, Western Love, Western Loyalty, and Western Legacy. I want to expound on your love for Western, your loyalty to Western, and your legacy at Western and the challenges that are before you once commencement exercises are completed.
The words of the alma mater should conjure up deep sentimental feelings. This commencement is just one moment in time, but I am certain that there are so many memories that bring smiles to your faces as you reflect on your time at this fine university. Whether it is memories of the late night study sessions and then acing that examination, attending fraternity and sorority formals, sitting in the student union or residence hall conversing with your friends, going to one of our great athletic events, participating in community service – like our big pink volleyball event (for which I am still in physical therapy for my knee), listening to one of our outstanding band or choral performances, your hearts should swell with purple pride as you think about your experiences here at Western. Oscar Wilde once said, "Never love anyone that treats you like you are ordinary." Graduates, you are not ordinary, you are extraordinary. If you are taking part in this ceremony and you are leaving these purple and gold grounds as a graduate, you should love Western. During your academic career at Western, professors have prepared you with conceptual and content knowledge and with a great deal of love. This love may have taken the form of discipline for being late to a class or missing an assignment, but it was out of love. It is out of their love for their respective disciplines, their love for the profession, their love for the learning process, and their love for seeing students succeed that they have labored in love to ensure that you will be able to compete with other individuals in the world. I have a special love for this class, and this is a memorable moment for me. I am not only president of this university, but I am also a proud parent as my eldest son Patrick is a member of this graduating class. So, I understand the jubilation and joy of parents of today's graduates. Now, maybe we (as parents) can have a little extra income in our households now that our children are graduating.
Western Illinois University Psychology Professor Eugene Mathes studies relationships. Dr. Mathes states, "A little jealousy is good for relationships." His research shows that a little jealousy (I said a little jealousy) is okay because it allows people to adjust their behaviors to maintain relationships that are important to them. We want you to love Western Illinois University wholeheartedly. We want you to wear Western's apparel instead of wearing apparel from other institutions in which you have no affiliation. Why wear orange and blue or red and white, when our school colors are purple and gold? Love is also about change. So, when your six pack abs turn into a keg and you can no longer fit into your old tattered WIU shirt, please come back and purchase more apparel from our university bookstore. Keep your Western gear up to date.
As musical artist Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, better known as Sting sang in his 1985 hit, "If you Love Somebody, Set Them Free." Sting says in his song,
If you need somebody, call my name
If you want someone, you can do the same
If you want to keep something precious
You got to lock it up and throw away the key
Free, Free, Set them Free
The principles of the saying and Sting's song rings clear. We want you to keep Western's name near and dear to your hearts. We want Western's name to remain precious to you, as Sting says, lock Western in your heart and throw away the key. Western Illinois University is about to set you free, and if you love your university, you will keep abreast of what is happening at your alma mater, and you will visit often. Please know that we want you to come back and visit the majestic beauty of the campus. Your love for your university should undergird your loyalty to your university. Western Love, Western Loyalty, and Western Legacy.
Loyalty is standing by what you believe in, even when someone else may not agree with you. Loyalty keeps you faithful and true to your friends, family and your alma mater. As you move to the next chapter of your life, we want you to be loyal to Western Illinois University. As a graduate, you are now entitled to all of the rights and responsibilities that are associated with being a graduate of this fine institution. However, in the next few weeks, many of you will be inundated with additional responsibility. For some of you, your new responsibility will come in the form of honoring your military commitment. For some of you, your new responsibility will come with graduate and professional school, a new career, and many others. With all of these new responsibilities, I know that it may be difficult to keep your alma mater in the forefront of your minds when you leave Macomb, but I want to urge you as graduates to remember this place, this wonderful place, an intellectual, epic center of ideas with fondness in your hearts and minds. While you may be embarking on new endeavors and matriculating to a new stage in your life, be loyal to Western Illinois University. Loyalty is more precious than silver and gold. Chinese philosopher, Confucius stated, "The scholar does not consider gold and jade to be precious treasures, but loyalty and good faith." When others brag about their university, you tell them about your university. You tell them about Western Illinois University and that this university is still ascending to great heights and our standards remain high. You tell them that we are still educating intelligent, industrious, and innovative young men and women. You tell them that Western Illinois University has had another record-breaking fundraising year and to date, has raised nearly $56 million of our $60 million comprehensive campaign goal. You tell them that U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review continue to rank Western as a top tier Best Midwestern University. You tell them that G.I. Jobs magazine continues to rank Western as a military friendly institution. You tell them that the Pell Foundation and the Southern Regional Education Board recognized Western as an institution that graduates more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than many of our peer institutions. You tell them that Western now has more high achieving students than it has ever had in its history. We want you to be proud and loyal to this great institution.
Now that you are about to become an alum of this great university, I ask that you become active with the Alumni Association and give back financially to your alma mater. Your donations (that is with an s) assist this institution in providing meaningful experiences to students. I am reminded of the words, "To whom much is given much is expected." We are expecting you to make monetary contributions to your alma mater and to the alumni association. Your loyalty will compel you to give back. Western Love, Western Loyalty, and Western Legacy.
Most people wait until the end of their lives to think about their legacy. I believe that this is not the most opportune time to think about our legacy. The time to think about our legacies is now. How do you want to be remembered? Graduates, you must define your legacy. Legacy thinking is grounded in self-awareness, hopes, and intentions. There are various kinds of legacies. Some graduates choose to leave a financial legacy. Some graduates choose to leave a legacy of supporting causes such as aiding in the fight against breast cancer and prostate cancer or child abuse. Some graduates choose to leave a legacy by building a new building or buildings at one's alma mater. (We would love to have a new building.) Leaving a legacy is about an innovative way of thinking, unselfish thinking and providing a helping hand. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement. Think of Theodore Roosevelt and the legacy of the national parks. Think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Women's Suffrage Movement. Think of Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple Computers. Think of Bill Gates and Microsoft and Melinda Gates's work with the Gates Foundation. All of these individuals will be forever revered and remembered for their efforts and their legacies. What will your legacy be?
In speaking of leaving a legacy, recently, I read a story about a medical doctor in Rushville, Illinois a city of 3,200 people and about 28 miles south of Macomb. Dr. Russell Dohner (pronounced donor), who was a member of the first pre-med group at Western after World War II, operates a one-man practice in Rushville. Dr. Dohner is an 87-year-old family physician who still practices medicine, something he has done since 1955. He is a small frame gentleman with large glasses who is a throwback to a gentler era. The phones are rotary, the records are handwritten, and the charge since the 1970s has been just five dollars. Dr. Dohner refuses to charge any more than five dollars because he believes that the cost should be affordable for all people. If people do not have the money, he sees them anyway. Dohner is a beloved figure in Rushville, but it is not just the small amount of Dr. Dohner's fee that keeps patients coming back. It is the kindness he has shown and the impact of his care. It is, in short, Dr. Dohner, a calm and gentle presence who has held the hand of the dying, tended to the sick and injured, and helped everyone else get on with the business of living. He loves people, and he loves his community. When they asked him about retiring, his gentle reply was "What if someone needs me? I never went into medicine to make money. I wanted to be a doctor, taking care of people." Dr. Dohner works seven days a week, opening his office for an hour before church on Sundays. He has never taken a vacation and rarely leaves Schulyer County, with the exception of attending an occasional medical conference. Dr. Dohner is leaving an indelible legacy for the entire world to take notice.
Graduates, may your love, may your loyalty, and may your legacy live long for Western Illinois University. Let your love for Western shine that others may see your good works. May your loyalty and commitment to this university be evident in your service to all humanity. May your legacy be one that represents this university extremely well. I congratulate you, and wish you well in your future endeavors.