University News

Dare to Dream Big

2019 Spring Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, May 11, 2019 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 12, 2019 (Quad Cities campus)

Good afternoon. Today, you have come from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and from other states across the nation. You have come from India, Canada, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and from many other countries around the world. You have come by plane, train, and automobile to be at this prestigious place. Friends and family from across the globe also join us through live-streaming to celebrate this momentous occasion.

On this graduation day, let the beauty of Western Illinois University overwhelm you and let the heart of the institution overtake you. Western Illinois University will always be your second home, and we take great pride in honoring our graduates through these commencement exercises. There is no better day in the academic year than commencement. Let’s give our graduates a round of applause.

Graduates, you did not make it to this milestone on your own. Please rise and give your supporters the round of applause they deserve.

My speech today is inspired by the poem, “Dare to Dream,” by John Turnipseed. The poem says,

Some people only look at life through eyes that seldom gleam
while others look beyond today as they're guided by a dream
And the dreamers can't be sidetracked by dissenters who may laugh
for only they alone can know how special is their path
But dreams aren't captured easily;
there's much work before you're through
but the time and efforts are all worthwhile
when the impossible comes true
And dreams have strength in numbers
for when a common goal is shared
the once impossible comes true
because of all who cared
And once it's seen as reality
a dream has just begun
for magically from dreams come dreams
And a walk becomes a run
But with growth of course comes obstacles
and with obstacles come fear
but the dream that is worth dreaming
finds its way to the dear
And the dream continues growing
Reaching heights before unseen
And it's all because of the courage
of the dreamers and their dream.

Graduates, there are so many individuals who have dreams, as Langston Hughes says, that dry up “like a raisin in the sun.” They may put off their dreams and allow circumstances to stop the pursuit of their desires. But today, you are recognized for achieving one of your dreams by graduating from Western Illinois University. The dream you had of one day crossing this stage did not dry up with the sun, but because of your grit, courage, determination, and at times, pure force of will, that dream becomes a reality today.

To reach this milestone, you had to develop a winning attitude. Too often our dreams may be  shattered and vanish like smoke because we allow individuals to define who we are, and we listen to the negative things that others have to say about us.

Today, I am reminded of the story of the man who came across a snake that fell into a fire and was being burned to death. As the good man passed by, he chose to intervene and remove the snake from the fire. As he picked up the snake, it bit him, causing him to yell out in pain and drop the snake right back into the flames. Seeing the snake in the fire once more caused the man to rethink his plan. So he grabbed a large stick and took that snake out of the fire, saving its life.

An observer who saw the whole episode said to the man, “That rotten snake bit you, so why did you try so hard to save it?” The man replied, “it is in the snake’s nature to bite, but it is in my nature to help.” Graduates, you do not need to change your better nature and your dreams simply because others may harm you. It is in your nature to dare to dream big and you should never allow those dreams to be choked by negativity.

Graduates, do not set any limitations on what you can become. You have the freedom to dream big for yourselves. You can do whatever you set your minds to achieve. The sky is the limit to what you can do. Think big, dream big and achieve your goals. If your mind can conceive it, then you can certainly achieve it. Remember the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said that, “A [person’s] mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

My advice to you today is that you must stop thinking inside the box. Do not limit yourselves to what someone else believes. Start believing that you can accomplish your dreams and goals. Success is in your attitude and approach to life. Find positive role models and surround yourself with individuals who will help you to reach for and attain your dreams.

To explore your full potential and identify new opportunities for achieving your dreams, challenge your creative powers and develop the right dreams for yourself. Stretch to new limits and explore the possibilities from a global perspective. Your dreams will give you the hope to employ grit and determination to work toward the future you desire.

Today, I challenge you to view yourselves as you one day wish to be. Picture yourselves as leaders who have the qualities and confidence necessary to take charge, solve problems and make the world a better place. Set goals and have a vivid picture in your mind. If you keep thinking about it with focus and determination, then one day you are going to do what it takes to get it.

Be proactive to situations rather than reactive. Create your plan, which will lead you toward your dreams. Stand up for what you believe in, take charge, take control and dare to dream big. Those who have their own plans and dreams are sometimes viewed as going against the grain. Well, sometimes you have to do just that. You have to stand alone simply because your plans and dreams may far exceed the vision that someone else has for you.

In order to be successful in this modern age, you cannot afford to be complacent. Although you have made great strides, you have not yet arrived. Arriving is a continuing process and there is still work to be done, challenges to be met, problems to be solved and changes to be made. Continue the legacy of the dreamers who came before you, but expand upon their dreams by pursuing your own. Stand on the shoulders of the giant dreamers who have come before so you can reach even greater levels of accomplishment. Work to preserve the progress that has been established, and seek to enhance the world through your own dreams and hard work.

People who work hard to reach their dreams are winners, and let me say to you that work is an attitude. There is no doubt in my mind that there are four P’s necessary for work – patience, persistence, perseverance and perspiration.

Patience in pursuing dreams is best illustrated in a story from the life of Thomas Edison. When he was interviewed by a young reporter, Edison was asked, “How does it feel to have failed 10,000 times in your present adventure?” Edison responded, “Young man, since you are just getting started in your career, let me give you a thought that should be beneficial to you in the future. I have not failed anything 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Edison had the patience to work toward his dream until he got it right.

Some people mistakenly think that patience is merely waiting around for something to happen. Patience means giving things time to happen correctly. Patience does not equate to inaction, it means waiting for the right time to do things in the right way.

Do not let the perception of failure get you down. Be persistent and dedicated to doing what you know needs to be done to reach for your dreams. While being persistent, you will also need to persevere and put forth that extra effort and never give up. Perseverance is the ability to keep trying, keep striving and to never give in, even when the obstacles and subsequent discouragement dampen your dreams.

Finally, be prepared to perspire. There is a certain type of sweat and grit needed to reach the dream for justice, equality, and ideals, even if you have to stand alone.

Your time at Western Illinois University has been built upon the foundation of the four P’s of work. Your time at Western has positioned you well for pursuing your dreams. Now is the time to create, shape and redefine your dreams. Have the courage to dare to dream and dare to dream big. Commit yourself to excellence and reach down inside to that creative power – that something inside so strong – and give birth to newer and bigger dreams. Reaching these dreams lies in having a vivid vision, being focused, planning for success and seeing it through with the four P’s of work.

Author Langston Hughes implores us to:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

May you dare to dream and dare to dream big. May you keep your dreams alive through creativity, courage, consideration and hard work as you make the world a better place. May you realize Alfred Tennyson’s dream “to seek a newer world...to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Today, you are, as Kanye and Kid Cudi say,  “So reborn. So keep movin’ forward. Keep movin’ forward.” I wish you all the best as you go forth and dare to dream big.