University News

Now Is The Time!

2015 Spring Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, May 16, 2015 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 17, 2015 (Quad Cities campus)

Good morning, especially to those of you who have traveled from far and near, to share in this special occasion with us today. Graduates, we salute you on this 2015 Spring Commencement here at Western Illinois University. Give yourselves a round of applause. This is a notable milestone on life's road to success. No outstanding endeavor is accomplished without the assistance and the support of others. Graduates, your family and friends have supported and encouraged you through this process and now you stand on the threshold of a great accomplishment, so you should take this opportunity to thank them by giving them a round of applause.

I want to take this opportunity to thank a man who has had over a 30-year affiliation with this institution, as an undergraduate and graduate student, faculty member, and an administrator, for all of his hard work and the love that he exhibits for his alma mater. This is the final Western Illinois University Commencement Ceremony for Provost and Academic Vice President, Dr. Ken Hawkinson as he has been selected as the twelfth president of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. Let's give him a round of applause.

As I stand before you, I am reminded of an excerpt from "A Rock Cries Out to us Today," by Maya Angelou, who wrote this poem for President Bill Clinton's Inauguration, which says...

Lift up your Eyes Upon
This Day Breaking for You.
Give Birth Again
To the Dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning...

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.

When I composed this commencement address, like Maya Angelou, I thought about humanity, and I thought about my brother's face and my sister's eyes and the pulse of this new day and this new beginning for our graduates.

I wanted to present an address that would encourage you, our graduates, and help you fight fear and combat complacency, two things that I have identified that hinder success in people. And I was reminded of a line used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "the fierce urgency of now." Therefore, this commencement address is entitled, "Now Is The Time!"

In April of 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a public address entitled, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. In this address, he spoke about the fierce urgency of now. This was a clarion call for all who would hear him to face the challenges of new circumstances and situations, embrace change and live with a sense of urgency and purpose. This commencement address is about not allowing opportunities in life to pass you by.

Each of you is about to enter a new phase of your life, which includes heightened responsibility. Now, the onus is on you. Now, all decisions are yours. Now, all responsibilities are yours. I am sure there are a few parents saying, "Now, all the bills are yours too."

As this graduating class leaves this citadel of knowledge, I want to challenge each of you to live with a fierce urgency of now because you are about to embark on a new juncture of your journey of life. Dr. King stated, "We are faced with the fact that tomorrow is today." We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum (con-un-drum) of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is a thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity." Graduates, now is the time!

Graduates, your tomorrow is today. Some of you may be fearful about what the future holds. Do not be fearful during this new phase in your life. Do not procrastinate, and do not let opportunities pass you by. Do not lose opportunities because you are too focused on the pleasures of life that you miss the value of hard work and long term commitment. Now is the time to take advantage of life while you have elevated energy, sound mind, and physical dexterity. Graduates, now is the time!

You should have the confidence knowing that you have been educated by some of the best faculty in the world in their chosen fields of study. They have aided in cultivating your competencies, developing your decision making, and increasing your intellectual abilities. Graduates, give our outstanding faculty a round of applause for providing you with an exceptional educational experience!

No one knows the future, but we can be ready for it by preparing today. George Will once said, "The future has a way of arriving unannounced" but your education from this university has prepared you for the future, be it graduate education, professional education, or the world of work. Though the future may arrive unannounced, Western Illinois University graduates are always equipped with confidence and a "fierce urgency of now" because now is the time to put your education to practice and show the world how a Western Illinois University graduate operates.

While you are living in the now, I want you to appreciate the small things in life and live each moment to its fullest because it can vanish in a flash. Appreciate not only the moment at this ceremony but experiences that lie before you. Poet and Pulitzer Prize winning author and Bronzeville, Illinois' own, Gwendolyn Brooks once said, "Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies. And be it gash or gold, it will not come again in this identical guise." Take advantage of each moment of each day. You should approach each day of life with optimism and as an opportunity. Awake and greet each day as a new opportunity to move toward your goals and dreams. Awake and meet each new morning as a new opportunity to show compassion to all of humanity. Awake and welcome each day as you make the world a better place. Graduates, now is the time!

Your time is precious and valuable. Use it wisely. Do not allow negative and unproductive people to waste your time. Live in the now because your time is a treasure and should be guarded as such. Cofounder and former CEO of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs once said, "Your time is limited, so do not waste it living someone else's life. Do not become trapped in dogma-which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Do not let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And once you have had a little success, do not burn your bridges. You may need to cross those bridges later in life. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." Graduates do not let fear or the lack of self-confidence prevent you from becoming who and what you want to become. Now is the time to become that new creative individual.

The fierce urgency of now shows us that our preparation today will move us towards perfection of tomorrow. Though no one on earth is perfect, the profound and philosophical phrase "fierce urgency of now" challenges us to boldly pursue perfection now. English social theorist and writer, Harriet Martineau, once said, "You better live your best, and act your best and think your best today; for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that follow." Now is the time and the time is now. When you diagram the previous sentence, (and English teachers, I know that diagramming sentences is not in vogue as a teaching tool anymore) whether the now is the noun in the sentence or the adverb, it still rings urgent and it is a clarion call urging us to do something. Even if you transpose the words that construct the sentence, it has the same meaning. It is an appeal for action. It is a beckoning call inviting you as new alumni to make an impact on this institution by continuing to support this university in our efforts to make this the best institution in the world. If we embrace now, this university and our alumni will be an unshakable and unmovable force that will change the arch of time. We have to operate in the now, but have an eye affixed on the future.

Our university has always operated in the now with an eye looking toward the future. This allowed our university to be established in 1899 and to move from Western Illinois Normal and Training School in 1902, then Western Illinois State College and finally Western Illinois University in 1957. If you canvas the history of our university, you will see that our faculty and students have lived in the now with an eye on the future. During World War II, our enrollments were low at Western because many young men left to participate in the war. Western's 1940 graduating class had only 58 students and 48 of those were women. Only six men graduated in the class of 1957. The now (the war) forced the university to focus our eyes on the future. The "fierce urgency of now" forced the university to change our curriculum to provide our students with better opportunities. Just as in that pivotal time in this institution's history and the lives of those graduates, it is essential that our current graduates live in the now with an eye affixed on the future.

Graduates, you are entering a new era of maturity in your life and a new opportunity, so live with the fierce urgency of now because now is the time and the time is now.

  • Now is the time and the time is now for our graduates to become more concerned with selfless acts than selfies
  • Now is the time and the time is now for our graduates to be more concerned with real heroes instead of the real housewives
  • Now is the time and the time is now for our graduates to have true friends instead of fake Facebook friends
  • Now is the time and the time is now to put away those video games and start playing the game of life
  • Now is the time and the time is now to become a better member of society rather than spending all of our time on social media
  • Now is the time and the time is now to clean up your social media act and prepare for your professional career or graduate and professional school
  • Now is the time and the time is now for you to pick up the restaurant tab when you have dinner with your parents.
  • Now is the time and the time is now for some of you to seek gainful employment and give back your time and resources to Western Illinois University
  • Now is the time and the time is now for faculty, staff, students, alumni and all who love Western Illinois University to become one great Leatherneck Nation.

Graduates, now is the time! Congratulations on your achievements and best wishes for a bright and successful future!