University News

The Time Is Always Right to Do What Is Right

2018 Spring Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, May 12, 2018 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 13, 2018 (Quad Cities campus)

Good morning/afternoon. Graduates, we are pleased to honor you at Western Illinois University’s 2018 Spring Commencement Ceremonies. You have devoted time and energy to your respective programs, and I couldn’t be more proud of our graduates. I think Drake said it best ... “coming to Western and graduating was a part of ‘GOD’S PLAN.’” Am I right students?

No worthwhile accomplishment is ever achieved 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 your mothers, your fathers, your grandmothers and your grandfathers, and all those who have supported you along the way. Give them a round of applause.

As I stand before you to deliver this commencement address, I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s poem “A Rock Cries Out to us Today,” 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.

As I contemplated this year’s commencement address, I thought about humanity and our ability to give birth to a new tomorrow. I thought about my brother’s face and my sister’s eyes and the pulse of this new day and this new beginning for Western’s graduates.

In a time of struggle, strife, disrespect and despair, I wanted to present an address that would encourage you, strengthen you, and help you fight fear and combat complacency. Experience has taught me that fear and complacency are obstacles that can hinder success. These two obstacles reminded me of one of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mottos, which says, “The Time is Always Right to do What is Right.” This motto serves as the title of this address and invites us to proper action. Similar to Dr. King, former president Teddy Roosevelt also lived in tumultuous times and said, “Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” These two leaders understood the power of using time wisely now, and acting while you are able.

The late 1960s were a time of upheaval in the United States and throughout the world. Amidst this historical backdrop, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a public address entitled, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. In this speech, he reminds us 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 and seek change, and live with a sense of urgency and purpose. This commencement address echoes Dr. King’s and President Roosevelt's strident calls to not allow opportunities in life to pass by.

Graduates, you are about to commence to a new phase of your life, and with this transition comes increased responsibility. You are at a point in life where the onus of the responsibility of caring for yourself and others shifts from other adults to you. Now, all decisions and their consequences should be yours. Now, all responsibilities should be yours. Certainly, your parents are saying (or probably hoping at least to say), “Now, all the bills are yours, too.”

As this graduating class leaves the hallowed halls of this fine University, I challenge each of you to live by the motto, “the time is always right to do what is right” because you are about to embark on a new pathway of your journey through life.

I recently saw a T-shirt which said, “Procrastinate now. Don’t put it off.” While the sentiment of the shirt was amusing, Gandhi countered the sentiment when he said, “the future depends on what you do today.” This underscores the point that we are confronted daily with opportunities to do what is right. Dr. King said, “In this unfolding conundrum 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, the time is always right to do what is right.

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 so focused on the pleasures of life that you miss the value of hard work and long-term commitment. The time is always right to take advantage of life while you have elevated energy, sound mind, and physical health. Graduates, the time is always right to do what is right.

No one knows the future, but we can be ready for it by preparing today. Steve Jobs once said, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” The question then becomes, “what dots am I laying down today?” Well, your education from this fine university has prepared you for the future, be it graduate education, professional education, or the world of work. Western Illinois University graduates are prepared because the time is always right to do what is right by putting your education to practice and showing the world how a Western Illinois University graduate operates.

Graduates, appreciate the small things in life and live each moment to the fullest because it can vanish in a instant. Appreciate not only the moment at this ceremony, but look forward to the experiences and dots that lie before you. Poet and Pulitzer Prize winning author and native of Bronzeville Illinois, 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.” The time is always right to take advantage of each moment of each day. The time is always right to approach each day of life with optimism and as an opportunity. The time is always right to awake and greet each day as a new opportunity to move toward your goals and dreams. The time is always right to awake and meet each new morning as a new opportunity to show compassion to all humanity. The time is always right to awake and welcome each day as you make the world a better place. Graduates, the time is always right to do what is right.

Your time is precious and valuable. Use it wisely. Leave negative and unproductive people alone, and spend your time associating with people who will encourage you to use your time wisely. Live in the present because your time is a treasure and should be guarded as such. Graduates do not let fear or the lack of self-confidence prevent you from becoming who and what you want to become. The time is always right to do what is right and become that new creative individual.

Doing what is right and doing it now tells us that our preparation today will move us towards a hopeful and better tomorrow. 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.”

The time is always right to do what is right. This phrase 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. 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. If we do what is right, and do it right now, this University and our alumni will be an unshakable and resolute force that will change the world for good.

Graduates, the time is always right to do what is right, so don’t you quit! You have done the right things, you made the right choice, and you are now forever enshrined as a member of the Leatherneck nation. Finally graduates, I want to leave you with these words from poet Edgar A. Guest:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must—but don’t you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

Graduates, congratulations on your achievements and best wishes for a bright and successful future!