University News

Choice Not Chance

2015 Fall Centennial Honors Convocation Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Friday, December 18, 2015

Good evening, I want to welcome you to our Centennial Honors Convocation at Western Illinois University. I want to thank Dr. Rick Hardy, Dr. Paul Schlag, Dr. Molly Homer, Alex Geisler, Michele J. Aurand, Patty Battles and graduate students Michael Quigley and Alexandria Leavy for all of your hard work and dedication to Western Illinois University.

This has been a banner semester for the Centennial Honors College. The Honors College continues to do an outstanding job in providing students with excellent activities. You have hosted signature activities, most notably the nation’s largest mock presidential election, the constitutional day celebration, and pre-law symposium, and travel courses. Participation in these activities has provided you with opportunities in leadership, personal growth, and service learning. There are many service opportunities like those that the Honors College mentors provided by helping underprivileged students at the children’s shopping mall at Citizens Bank a couple of weeks ago.

You have wonderful students like Brock Merritt, a Law Enforcement Major who will give the address this evening and Steven Olsen, the department Scholar, a senior and music education major. The Honors College has wonderful students like Hannah Drake, who is the University’s recipient of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois’ Student Laureate Award for 2015. For all of the achievements of this college and its wonderful students, let’s give them a round of applause.

One of the oldest and most debated questions is whether our life or destiny is a matter of choice or chance. The great philosopher Aristotle once said, “Choice, not chance that determines one’s destiny.” William Jennings Bryant once said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It’s not a thing to be waited for. It is a thing to be achieved.”

In contrast, Friedrich Schiller once said, “There is no such thing as chance. And what to us seems merely an accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.” Benjamin Disraeli once said, “A consistent soul believes in destiny, a capricious one in chance.” We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between. While I have my own opinions on the question at hand, I will not take a “chance” or make the “choice” to attempt to solve this question during this honors convocation address.

In my life, I have discovered that those who make good choices are more fulfilled and destiny is an optimal combination of choice and chance, and it is impossible to separate the two. Any choice made is always comprised of an element of chance as well. Life is the result of a combination of chance and choice since neither is completely free of the other, but whether life is a game of chance or opportunities to choose, we must make good choices.

By choosing this University, you have made a good choice and made your life better. By staying the course and making good grades, you have made a good choice. Whether you choose to go to graduate and professional school or to begin your career, set goals and stay focused. Continue to make good choices. In attempting to make good choices, it is very easy to get sidetracked by insignificant issues in life. If you spend a lot of time on trivial matters, you will not have time to contemplate the things that really matter in life. You must also make good choices that are consistent with your core beliefs and values. But the choice is yours! To not make choices that line up with your values, invariably leads to regret.

In life, many people attempt to be all things to all people, but this only leads to frustration. Graduates, do not try to be an expert at everything. Seek input and advice from others when there are things that are outside of your comfort zone. In making good choices, you must view an issue from every vantage point. What do the facts say? What is your intuition telling you? Is your conscience trying to tell you something? After examining these questions and many others, then, it is time to make a good choice. Graduates, you are what you choose to become. The choice is yours. You must determine your own path, taking action and creating your own destiny in life. The choice is yours. Your past has not defined you, destroyed you, deterred you, or defeated you. It has only strengthened you and made you a better person. The choice is yours.

As president of this University, I do not get the opportunity to teach in the classroom as I did at the beginning of my career, but I want to leave you with these final three lessons:

  1. Choice is what you get with your intentions and chance is what you get without your intentions. Do not leave your life to chance. Make good choices at all times.
  2. You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices.
  3. The more you love your choices, the less you need others to love them.

Congratulations on this achievement. Whether by chance or by choice, always remember the choice is yours.