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2013 Spring  Centennial Honors Convocation Address
President Jack Thomas - May 10, 2013 (Macomb, Illinois) - May 12, 2013 (Moline, Illinois)

Learning Landmark Lessons in Life

Good afternoon. On behalf of the University community, I want to welcome you to our 2013 Spring Honors Convocation. I want to thank Dr. Rick Hardy, Interim Director of the Centennial Honors College, and his entire staff. Let us give them a round of applause.

It is important that we honor and recognize those students who have made significant academic achievements, but it is also important to recognize the wonderful work that has taken place in the Centennial Honors College. The Honors College has provided many experiences and opportunities in leadership for our students. The University has taken note and celebrates these activities sponsored by the Honors College, events such as the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day and many others.

We have also taken notice of the Presidents Institute and the Presidents Journal which provide opportunities for young scholars to develop their research and creative skills. We have also noticed the Pre-Law Symposium sponsored by the Honors College. This symposium allows students to meet some of the top law school recruiters in the country and allows students to learn while being introduced to important legal issues. Elizabeth Etta (E'TA) an African American Studies major and an Honors College student became Western Illinois University's first ever Truman Scholarship Finalist. You have been exemplary students, and your talent and motivation have driven you to be high academic achievers. The opportunities provided by the Centennial Honors College and your undergraduate experiences have provided you with a wide range of opportunities that will remain with you for a life time.

Let me share some personal lessons learned with you today. I grew up in a rural farming community in Lowndes County, Alabama. I was the first to complete undergraduate studies and receive a college degree in my family. As I reflect on my undergraduate studies, I remember several landmark lessons that I learned that I continue to use even to this day. During my years of undergraduate study, my older brother and my mentor passed away. From the tragedy of my brother's death, I learned the lesson that we cannot take life for granted, and we must live every day to the fullest and with promise. At times in your life, you have boundless energy and your minds are sharp, do not squander these resources in mindless and trivial activities. Take each day as a new opportunity to make a difference in the world through your words or deeds. Landmark lesson, live life to the fullest.

I have also learned that the 'golden rule,' "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a very good principle to live by. I live by this lesson in my personal and professional life. Along with treating others as you want to be treated, you should also get to know people as complete human beings and not just as acquaintances. We must go beyond the superficial. Peeling back the superficial and getting to know people as human beings. This will allow you to embrace the differences in people but also allow you to recognize the core concerns that all human beings share. We must think beyond just ourselves. Landmark lesson, live by the golden rule.

I have also learned that good manners never go out of style. To say "thank you", "please", and "may I" may seem a bit outdated. However, these are tried and true behaviors that employers continue to look for when recruiting and hiring new employees. The unemployment rate as of April 2013 edged lower to 7.5 percent, due partly to the jobs gained and to a labor-force participation rate that remains at a 35-year low. However, many of you will be looking for employment soon, and with the many candidates in the job market, the determining factor of you receiving a job offer may be your manners. Landmark lesson, Good manners never go out of style.

I have learned that interpersonal skills are important and people must develop these skills to be successful. At one time or another, you will have to work with people. Therefore you must develop your interpersonal skills. Collaboration and connected approaches are on the rise in both the public and private sector. In most places of employment, people come together as part of a project team to collaborate. Having strong interpersonal skills has a huge impact on the results the team is able to achieve. This means that you should learn how to get along with others. This also means that you must be able to accept your weaknesses and strengths. You must learn how to use your strengths and how to improve your weaknesses. You must know yourself. We only get better at activities through practicing those skills that we wish to improve. Landmark lesson, Develop your interpersonal skills through practice.

Finally, you should have a big dose of humility and a service mentality. Being humble will allow you to not think more highly of yourself than you should. Having high self esteem is important, but never become too high minded to say "hello" to someone. Never become too important that you cannot smile at your fellow man or woman. Never have too big of an ego that you cannot serve humanity. Have a "service mentality" to meet the needs of people especially those who may be less fortunate than you. You have to understand and care about the needs of others. You should be willing to give more than you receive. It could be something as simple as sharing an article, introducing two people who might be able to help one another in some way or take time to share lessons learned or teach someone something. We are continually moving toward a knowledge and service based economy. It is more important than ever to remain humble and have a service mentality. Landmark Lesson, have humility and a service mentality.

Graduates, we honor you today with this special ceremony as our acknowledgment for you being stellar students during your academic career at Western Illinois University. With your experience and learning as honors students, I am sure that you have learned some landmark life-long lessons while you were here at Western Illinois University. Congratulations to you and I wish you much success.