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Don’t Be Afraid to Be...

Fall 2018 Centennial Honors Convocation Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Friday, December 14, 2018

Good evening. On behalf of the University community, we welcome you to our 2018 Honors Convocation. I want to thank Dr. Rick Hardy, Dean of the Centennial Honors College, and his staff, who provide a tremendous amount of support for students in the Honors College. To the Dean and his staff, thank you for your hard work, dedication and commitment to our honors students. Let’s give these individuals a round of applause.

To the brilliant and high-achieving students who are a part of the Centennial Honors College, congratulations on all that you have accomplished.

In Hamlet’s soliloquy, he poses the existential question, “to be, or not to be?” Well graduates, today I’m going to tell you what to be. As graduates of this world-class University, I want you to continue to be thinkers. I want you to be agents of change. I want you to be respectful. And I want you to benevolent. Consider these four challenges.

First, I Want You to Be a Great Thinker

Great thinkers develop and train great minds. They contemplate how to make society better. Do not be afraid to be a great thinker. Shakespeare once said, "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Be a great thinker and philosopher in the vein of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Confucius. Be a great thinker and ambassador like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Benjamin Franklin. Be a great thinker and writer such as Alice Walker and Mark Twain. Be a great thinker and scholar such as Rachel Carson and W.E.B. DuBois.

Whether you have been great, achieve greatness, or have greatness thrust upon you, do not be afraid of the possibilities. Some individuals ask “why?” Great thinkers ask the questions “why not” and “how can we get it done?” You are prepared for greatness because your minds have been trained. You are a great thinker and you are a graduate of Western Illinois University. Be a thinker.

Second, I Want You to Be the Change

Gandhi was a great thinker, who said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Great thinkers who do not succumb to fear become the change our world needs. Agents of change leave an indelible mark on society through great accomplishments. Agents of change look to shift old and outdated paradigms by creating innovative and new ways and methods of doing.

My desire for Western Illinois University graduates is to be positive agents of change by looking for innovative and new ways of doing things to shift old and outdated paradigms in every field of endeavor. Create opportunities for positive change for yourselves, but also create opportunities for others. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Third, I Want You to Be Respectful

Courageously pursuing the change you want to see in the world must be coupled with being civil, being considerate and being respectful. During my lifetime, I have learned that the ‘golden rule,’ “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a foundational principle for success.

Along with treating others as you want to be treated, get to know people as complex human beings and not just as acquaintances. Delve beneath the surface, peeling back the superficial and getting to know people as human beings. This will allow you to celebrate the differences and uniqueness in individuals, and to recognize the core concerns, fears, hopes and dreams that human beings share. Think beyond just your own perspectives.

I have also learned that good manners never go out of style. To say “please,” “thank you,” and “may I” are timeless and sure behaviors that employers continue to look for when hiring new employees. During the graduation season, tens of thousands of college students enter the workforce. Many of you will be looking for employment soon, and with all of these new candidates competing in the job market, the determining factor of whether or not you receive a job offer may be your manners. Be respectful.

Finally, I Want You to Be Benevolent

As you become graduates of this fine institution, we want you to be benevolent to your community and to your university. Be benevolent with your time and resources. Give back to society by being productive and volunteering for worthwhile causes. Share the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you have gained at Western Illinois University to make the world a better place. Be generous, believe in humanity and show respect for all people. Graduates, as you boldly seize opportunities, 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.

American author Tony Robbins, once said, “People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed.” As the momentum you have built today leads you to success, don’t be afraid to be benevolent.

In closing, let me remind you about how I answer Hamlet’s question. You should be. Now that you are graduates of this world-class University, be a thinker, be an agent of change, be respectful, and be benevolent. Continue to represent this University well, since you exemplify the best Western Illinois University has to offer. I look forward to greeting each of you individually as you cross the stage tomorrow. Now go forth, and don’t be afraid to be.