University News

Be The One

2016 Spring Commencement Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Saturday, May 14, 2016 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 15, 2016 (Quad Cities campus)

Graduates, members of the faculty, staff, Board of Trustees, and distinguished guests, welcome to Western Illinois University. We are appreciative to have the precious gift of your presence here today. Graduates, this is your day, so give yourselves a round of applause. Parents and guardians, I know that you are proud today of your sons and daughters, and I know that you are happy that you have one less bill to pay. Give our graduates a round of applause. Graduates, when you obtain that first job, take your parents out to dinner, and don’t forget to pick up the tab. Remember, that treating your families to dinner is a small gesture to say thank you for all that they have done for you.

Sometimes we forget to say thank you. Often, we are so concerned with our destinations and accomplishments that we forget the journey. I have often said there are no major goals or achievements that are accomplished alone. Graduates, as Drake says, you all have started from the bottom, and now you are here. Following my own advice, I simply want to say thank you. Graduates, thank you for choosing and attending Western Illinois University. Parents, thank you for trusting this university with your sons and daughters. We know that you have invested much in them. Western has invested our best in them also, and now you and I both are looking for a return on our investment. Faculty and staff, thank you for pouring knowledge into these students despite the adversity. I extend a gratitude of thanks to all administrators for your contributions which ensure that this university continues to be ranked as a “Best Midwestern College” and as a “Best Regional University” by The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report. Western Illinois University also continues to be named a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs Magazine. We continue to be the best public university in this region.

“To be, or not to be?” is the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the “Nun’s Scene” of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1. The entire line reads, “To be or not to be” that is the question? Arguably, this line is one of the most famous lines in the works of William Shakespeare. Having earned a Ph.D. in literature and criticism and being an English professor, when I analyze this line and contemplate other plays, I surmise that it is probably the most famous line because the opening words are interesting and intriguing. This is true because Shakespeare uses language to convey complex ideas in a simple sentence. To be or not to be? Shakespeare uses a question and the character Prince Hamlet to discuss complex philosophical ideas to an audience of wide ranges of educational levels. “To be or not to be” is not the question that I am posing to our graduates. I am charging you to be… the one. I know that some of you are wondering be the one to do what? This institution has prepared you to be whatever you choose to be.

Now that you are transitioning from student to Western alumni, there are some responsibilities associated with this achievement. Western graduates are special. Western graduates carry themselves with dignity, honor, and respect, so do not let us down. Remember that you are a graduate of Western Illinois University, so carry yourself with pride, class, and dignity. Country artist Tim McGraw reminds us to be humble as you move from this place to make your imprint on the world. Western graduates, be humble and kind. I am also asking you to do a few more things. I am asking you to go forth and represent yourself, your family, and this university well in all of your endeavors. I also want you to be bold, be brave, and be your best.

To be or Not To Be…. Be Bold

In life, I have learned that opportunities are opened to those who are bold enough to knock and bold enough to not give up. A few weeks ago, I saw a story on the NBC nightly news. There was a story about a woman named Victoria Li who was bold enough to pursue her passion. Victoria was a lawyer who worked in President Obama’s administration in the Department of Homeland Security, but she also likes making ice cream. She graduated from Wellesley and became a top attorney. She had a very successful career in government, but making ice cream is her passion. She wanted to own an ice cream shop. Though she worked for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Ms. Li’s passion is ice cream. In this news story, she stated that she would make ice cream in the morning before she went to work and make ice cream after she got off work. Her mind was constantly on making ice cream. She took photographs of the ice cream and put them on Instagram. She blogged about ice cream. She probably even tweeted about ice cream. Three years ago, she entered an ice cream competition and went back to her usual job as a lawyer. Feeling unfulfilled as a lawyer, she quit her job and cashed in her savings and built an ice cream parlor called, “Ice Cream Jubilee” and located it in Washington, D.C. She has found success while pursuing her passion with her new business venture.

I will make two editorial observations about this story. As a parent with two sons in college, I am sure that you took notice just as I did. When Ms. Li started the ice cream parlor, she had an undergraduate degree and a law degree. The story indicates that she used her own savings to fund the business venture. So graduates, do not think that your parents are going to be okay with you trying to start a business with their money while living in their basement. Victoria stated, “I started Ice Cream Jubilee to share my passion with others and encourage people to explore the pursuits that make them as happy as ice cream makes me.” And parents, I know that your sons and daughters have worked hard, so no, I am not trying to tell them to sell ice cream or to abandon their earned degrees. This story does illustrate how having passion and boldness can give you confidence.

Boldness feeds your dreams and if you feed your dreams, your fears will starve to death. Boldness can give you confidence, and it can drive you toward success. Western graduates, the world is waiting for you to stretch it into shape, so be the one who is Bold!

To Be or Not To Be…. Be Brave!

Western graduates, I am also urging you to be brave. Sara Bareilles released a popular tune in 2013 entitled, “Brave.” In this song she sings, “Say what you wanna say. And let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.” A year later, she joined forces with Cindy Lauper’s 1980’s hit song, “True Colors” to merge their two hits and called it, “Truly Brave” to raise money for children fighting cancer. Hoda Kotb brought these together for this great and selfless cause. If you want to talk about bravery, children battling cancer is true bravery.

As president of this University, I want to see you be brave. Bravery is not recklessness. Bravery is not searching our fear or danger, but being able to control fear when it matters most. Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is acting in the face of fear. Being brave entails not being afraid of who you truly are. I have often pondered questions like, “What is bravery?” “Does bravery live in the heart or the mind?” and “What compels some people to not fear danger and others to run away?” Bravery is perseverance. Bravery is knowing the odds are against you, but still trying to get things accomplished. Bravery is recognizing the battle may be big, but you battle on anyway. Bravery is when the world is telling you no, it can’t be done, but your spirit will not let you quit. In Harper Lee’s timeless classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the main character, Atticus Finch says, “I wanted to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It is when you know that you are licked before you begin, but begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” Western graduates, be the one who is Brave! I want to see you be brave. Be bold! Be brave!

To Be or Not to Be…. Be Your Best!

Western Illinois University graduates, I want you to be your best. It is your duty as a graduate of this fine university to represent us well and do your best. Albert Einstein once said, “We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.” Do all that you can to be your very best at whatever you do, because the world and time rapidly move forward. Before you know it, like me, you will be looking at this moment in your rear view mirror and celebrating your 30th undergraduate class reunion.

YOLO is a popular slogan, which means “You Only Live Once.” The philosophy of YOLO means that you will do everything to the best of your ability. YOLO does not mean go out smoke, drink, fight, and make a mess out of yourself. It means that you only have one life to live, so go out and give everything your best. On April 9, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. The title of the speech was, “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”. In this speech, Dr. King affirmed, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” In whatever you decide to do with your life, I want you to be your best. Abraham Lincoln avowed, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

While on your way to being your best, you may experience failure. Please understand that failure is not final, neither is it fatal. Benjamin Franklin, declared, “Doing your best means never stop trying.” Do not let anyone’s ignorance, hatred, drama, negativity stop you from being the best person you can be. You cannot start the next chapter of your life, if you keep rereading the last chapter. So, as you leave these hollowed grounds at Western Illinois University, be the one who is Bold! Be the one who is brave! Be the best! Be the one!

Be the one who leads by example
Be the one who makes the world a better place
Be the one who shows compassion
Be the one, Be the one who is ambitious
Be the one, Be the one who is courageous
Be the one, Be the one who is positive
Be the one, Be the one who is strong
Be the one, Be the one who is free
Be the one, Be the one who thinks deeply
Be the one, Be the one who laughs often
Be the one, Be the one who works hard
Be the one, Be the one who gives freely
Be the one, Be the one who loves much
Be the one, Be the one who speaks gently
Be the one, Be strong but not rude
Be the one, Be kind but not weak
Be the one, Be bold but not a bully
Be the one, Be humble but not timid
Be the one, Be proud but not arrogant

I want to see you be bold, brave, and be beautiful.

Congratulations again, on a job well done. I wish you well in your future endeavors. Thanks you and congratulations.