University News

2017 Spring Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, May 13, 2017 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 14, 2017 (Quad Cities campus)

Good Morning/Afternoon, and welcome to the spring commencement at Western Illinois University. This is the day for which we have all been waiting. It is a day of hope, a day of celebration, and a day where we recognize our graduates for their outstanding accomplishments. Graduation day is one of the most exhilarating times on a university campus. While graduation is always a special time for me, today is even more meaningful because I also have a son graduating from Western Illinois University. Please join me in giving all of these fine graduates a round of applause.

Graduates, as Drake says, you all have started from the bottom, and now you are here. This graduation ceremony signifies the end of one chapter in your life and the commencement of another. No outstanding endeavor is accomplished without the assistance and the support of others. Your family and friends have supported and encouraged you through this process and now you stand on the threshold of a great accomplishment. Graduates, give your family and friends a round of applause.

During your time at Western Illinois University, you have lived through some tough times. Robert Schuller once said that, “tough times never last, but tough people do.” At Western, we say that we come from a tradition of tough, and today’s ceremony recognizes your toughness.

In 1986, the Fabulous Thunderbirds released a top 40 hit entitled, “Tuff Enuff?” Well, graduates, you were tough enough to make it through your exams. You were tough enough to make it through your classes. You were tough enough to brave your way across Q-Lot in the blistering western winds and snow. Many of you were even tough enough to work your way through college. Your toughness has now paid dividends. As Colin Powell once said, “a dream doesn’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

As you commence toward a new future this day, whether it be entering the workforce or continuing on to graduate and professional school, you must continue to carry on this tradition of tough.

Today, I will use an acrostic to describe what it means to be Western TOUGH. At Western Illinois University the T stands for Talent, O is for Opportunity, U is for understanding, G is for Gratitude and H is for Hard Work.


The T in tough represents talent. Several years ago, you came to this great University with talent. The faculty and staff have helped you to cultivate that talent. However, you must continue to develop and create new talents throughout your life. Work to build skills, gain knowledge and continually improve yourself. You have developed your talents, completed your degrees and now many opportunities lie before you.


Next comes the O, for Opportunity. Addison Montgomery from Grey’s Anatomy once said that “We do not get unlimited chances to have the things we want. Nothing is worse than missing an opportunity that could [change your] life.” You must create your own opportunities. The great entertainer Milton Berle once said that “If opportunity does not knock, build a door.” Do not focus on challenges and problems. When you focus on problems, you find more problems. But when you focus on possibilities, you find more opportunities.

Creating your own doors of opportunity requires effort. Seneca, the Roman philosopher wrote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Graduates, as opportunities are opened to you, and you step through those doors, do not forget to provide opportunities for others. Give back to Western Illinois University by returning to campus, sharing your wisdom with students, faculty and staff, and providing future Leathernecks with learning opportunities, internships and jobs.


At Western Illinois University, we expect our students and graduates to be compassionate and understanding. Western toughness entails standing up for the oppressed, building others up and rejecting messages of hate. You have learned here at this great University to value and understand different cultures, and diverse forms of creativity and expressions. Certainly, you have learned to appreciate the uniqueness and individuality in all of us.

The following description of the principle of understanding was written on the wall of Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, India:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

As we gain understanding towards others, we develop an awareness that all things are interdependent. As we learn to respect and appreciate each other, we can work together for the common good. This appreciation for others leads us to gratitude.


Graduates, what are you grateful for today? Are you grateful for family and friends? Are you grateful for faculty and staff and for knowledge gained? I am sure you are grateful for not having any more exams. Some of you may be grateful for extra credit, that got you to this point. Are you grateful that we now have a Starbucks in Macomb?

In considering where you are today, remember that you did not make it this far on your own. The greatest form of gratitude is passing along opportunity to someone else. Be a mentor, be a teacher, help another person go to college. Give back and be generous. Many of you know, as I know, the struggles of being a first-generation college student and know the struggle of paying for your education. I encourage you to join the alumni association and generously support future WIU students.

At this time, be grateful for what you have, and go to work for what you don’t have.

Hard work

The concept that underlies what it means to be Western tough is hard work. Talent, opportunity, understanding and gratitude are insignificant if you are not willing to work hard. As you may be thinking today, all of the sacrifices, all of the sleepless nights, all of the struggles and downfalls, and all of the hard work pays off in the end. (Now I think you deserve another round of applause).

As you continue to work and strive, you will achieve and accomplish. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” So, if you ever fail, pick yourselves up, brush yourselves off and go back to work.

It has often been said that working for something we do not care about is called stress, while working hard for something we love is called passion. Follow the passion in your lives and your work will be rewarding. Parents, I am sure many of you have heard your sons and daughters say, “I want to follow my dreams.” Well graduates, dreams do not work unless you are willing to work for them.

Today, we celebrate you for your accomplishments. You have made a difference. You have made things happen in your own way. In some cases, you have made a way out of no way. You have done what some dare not to do. For that, we say, “a job well done.”

As graduates of Western Illinois University, you are full of talent, so go forth and make your own opportunities. You have learned to be understanding towards others, so reach out to provide opportunities for them. There are many people who have made this day a reality, so be grateful. Finally, continue the hard work, dedication and perseverance that made this day possible. This blend of Western tough will produce a lifetime of success and accomplishments.

Finally graduates, you must:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Choose your words, for they become actions.
Understand your actions, for they become habits.
Study your habits, for they will become your character.
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Thank you, and I wish you well in your endeavors.