University News

2013 Spring Centennial Honors Convocation Address
President Jack Thomas - May 9, 2014 (Macomb, Illinois) - May 11, 2014 (Moline, Illinois)

With Honors

Good afternoon and welcome to Western Illinois University's 2014 Spring Honors Convocation. I want to thank Dr. Rick Hardy, Director of the Centennial Honors College, Dr. Jennifer McNabb, Dr. Molly Homer, Janell McGruder, Michele Aurand, Patty Battles, Gregory Boidy, and Paula Townsend who provide much needed support. I want to thank them for their hard work and dedication. Let us give these individuals 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 been taking place in the Centennial Honors College. You have been exemplary students, and your talent and motivation have driven you to be achievers. Through the Honors College's tutorials, colloquia, and seminars, you have been refined and have positively experienced opportunities in leadership, personal growth, and service learning.

The title of today's address is simply, With Honors. I wish to talk today about what this phrase "with honors" truly means. In 2002, Congress directed the United States Army to review the records of Jewish American and Hispanic American veterans or others who had been wrongly denied the Medal of Honor due to prejudice during or after World War II. The review was ordered to see if any of those veterans should be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. All of those being honored had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military award. The Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Overall, eight of the 24 fought in Vietnam, nine in Korea and seven in World War II. The Medal of Honor was first awarded after the Civil War in 1863. To receive this prestigious honor, one must be a member of the Armed Forces and distinguish oneself above and beyond the call of duty.

Students, graduating with honors is mostly a designation that sets exceptional students apart from the rest of their class. To graduate with honors is a dream for many students who go to college. To graduate with honors shows the world that you have an industrious work ethic and great intelligence. Graduating with honors means that you receive a little extra something with your diploma, you receive all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that come along with this distinction.

Cum laude means "with honors," the word is taken from the Latin language and it symbolizes that you have distinguished yourself as a cut above the average college student. Magna cum laude is also taken from the Latin language and it means "with great praise" or "with high honors." Summa cum laude is the highest level which you can receive, and appropriately it means "with highest honors." If you have received any of the previous three distinctions of honor on your degree, it absolutely belongs on your resume. Never be embarrassed that you are intelligent and yes good looking too. Being intelligent should never be a liability.

The question arises, what does it mean to graduate with honors? It means that you are willing to go far and beyond the bare minimum of duty. It tells a potential employer that you will do more than just go to work and just "do your job," then go home. It tells a professor in a graduate or professional school that you are willing to burn the midnight oil to grasp and retain new concepts and theories. It tells everyone that you are willing to count up the cost and pay the price, sacrifice, and give one hundred percent in any endeavor that you attempt because you have determination, you have grit, and you are the best of the best.

In the future and maybe as soon as tomorrow, someone will ask you, "What is the big deal about graduating with honors?" First of all, if they are asking this question, they are probably not honors students. Being a former track athlete and coach, I like to use this analogy to explain what is the big deal about graduating with honors. If you were a middle distance runner on the track team, you would not ask, "What's the difference between winning the race and just finishing in the pack with a bunch of other runners?" Sure, everyone finished the race and this brings a certain amount of joy to compete and complete the race. However, it is an entirely different feeling to finish at the front and to receive a medal of distinction. I do not subscribe to the notion that everyone gets a trophy or an award, awards should be earned, and you have earned these awards so we honor you today.

With this honor and distinction that you are receiving today, do not be selfish. With every great accomplishment there are family, friends, and other people supporting you. You must be appreciative of their efforts to help you become a success. Many of you may not know, but I grew up on a farm in Lowndes County, Alabama, which is one of the poorest counties in the state of Alabama and in the nation. I was a first generation college student, meaning that my parents did not attend college. When I went away to college, my grandmother would send me a one dollar bill through the U.S. Postal Service each month. Some of my classmates would receive larger amounts of money from their families. I never will forget one day, one of my classmates was complaining about her parents only sending her five dollars. She was so unappreciative. She did not appreciate the support that she received from her family. I knew the sacrifice that my grandmother had made to send me that little old one dollar bill. When I graduated and walked across that stage, I was not the only one walking across the stage and receiving my diploma, but it was also my entire family including my grandmother and those one dollar bills. So, when you walk across the stage today and in the graduation ceremony, you must remember that this is not just your accomplishment. This great moment in your life is meant to be shared with your family and friends.

With Honors is a movie made in 1994 and it starred actors Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser. Fraser's character Monty is convinced his thesis will have him graduate with honors from Harvard University. Monty is a stuffy student, and when his computer crashes, he is left with only a single paper copy of his thesis. Frightened of losing the thesis paper, he immediately rushes out to photocopy it. When he does, he stumbles and drops it down a grate. Searching the basement of the building, he discovers that it has been found by Simon, a squatter played by Joe Pesci. Monty finds himself at the mercy of a homeless man's demands when he holds the paper hostage. Simon makes a deal with Monty: for every day's accommodation and food that Monty gives him, he will give a page of the thesis in return. To complicate this matter, if Monty does not turn the paper in on time, he cannot receive the honors distinction of summa cum laude. Simon tries his best to teach Monty humility and humanity, and eventually Monty's view and the arch of the course of his life course of his life. We cannot be like the character Monty in this movie and become so self-consumed that we cannot see the pain and sympathize with those who have experienced misfortunes in life. People who are less fortunate than us cannot become invisible to us.

The life lessons we can take away from this movie as well as in our every day life, are: no matter what we may accomplish, remember that there are others who have supported us and we cannot forget about those who are less fortunate. For those who have not seen this movie, I will go ahead a spoil the ending for you. Because Monty turned his thesis paper in late, he could not graduate summa cum laude as he had intended. The soundtrack theme to this movie was entitled, "I'll Remember," and was performed by Madonna. In 1994, this song received nominations from the Golden Globes, Grammys, and MTV Movie Awards. Let this song title, "I'll Remember," lead you to cherish the fond memories of your time at Western Illinois University and graduating with honors. We appreciate you, we salute you and we celebrate you! With Honors!