University News

Take the Purple Path to Success

2016 Spring Centennial Honors Convocation Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Friday, May 13, 2016 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 15, 2016 (Quad Cities campus)

Good afternoon. On behalf of the University community, I want to welcome you to our 2016 Honors Convocation. I want to thank Dr. Rick Hardy, Director of the Centennial Honors College, Dr. Paul Schlag, Associate Director of the College, Molly Homer and Michele Aurand, the academic advisors, who provide support for the Honors College. I want to thank all of you for your hard work and dedication. Let us give these individuals a round of applause. Patty Battles of the Honors College is retiring after 29 years of service. Patty we appreciate all that you have done for this university. Let’s give her a round of applause.

I am also honored that my path has crossed with the brilliant students and college scholars represented here today. Shortly, we will hear from our convocation student speaker, Victoria Lynn Kappel of Orland Park, Illinois.

In my 2014 spring commencement address, I discussed the significance of the color purple. Our school colors date back to the inaugural year of the Western Illinois State Normal School in 1902-1903. It was freshman Mary Jarvis who was moved by the “vast golden prairie strewn with purple coneflowers” that was found on the campus. Thus, this color combination was chosen in a contest. Passion is a moniker of our graduates. Passion is synonymous with Western Illinois University. Passion is one of the signatures of our great university. When employers hire a graduate from Western Illinois University, they know they are hiring people with passion. Purple and gold, this is such a beautiful color combination. Choosing this color combination helped our university set forth on a path to success.

We observe today as a celebration of accomplishment as well as the beginning of a new phase of the purple path of success. There have been so many events that have transpired since you entered this purple path to success. The world is different from the four or five years since you have entered within the gates of Western Illinois University. Five years ago in 2011, I had just taken the helm of the presidency of this University. Prince William married Cate Middleton, Steve Jobs died at aged 56, a massive earth quake hit northeast Japan unleashing a tsunami. In 2012, the Summer Olympic Games opened in London and Facebook debuted on the stock market. In 2013, Nelson Mandela and Margret Thatcher both died, and Hostess Twinkies returned to grocery stores. In 2014, the Winter Olympics were held in Russia. You could begin texting 911 emergencies, and Maya Angelou passed away. In 2015, the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations, the play Hamilton became a smash hit on Broadway, and Becky Hammon became the first female assistant coach in the NBA. All of these have transpired in the last few years.

I do not believe that we meet people by accident. I believe that our paths cross for a reason. You have had the privilege to be on the purple path, and it has been my pleasure to be on this path with you. I often say, “If you do not know where you are going, any path will get you there.” This is not your final destination on the purple path to success. Therefore, I wish to provide you with a few tools you will need for the remainder of your purple path to success. You will need passion, plans, and people.


Pursue Your Purple Passion

On the purple path to success, you will need passion. Without passion, even the most captivating vision will wither on the vine. Without passion, your energy and enthusiasm will not be able to overcome the inevitable obstacles you will encounter. Make your passion an essential part of your personality. Your passion will keep you engaged every moment of every day which will bring you one step closer to the measure on the purple path to success and the dream you desire. By graduating with honors, you are already a success story. By all means, pursue your passion, but remember what is most important. When your passion has overtaken your life, then you are out of balance. This means making your physical, spiritual, and mental health a priority, so take good care of your mind and body.


Plan a Purple Picture

You will need a purple picture. The purple picture simply means having a vision for your life and determining what you want to do with your life. Many successful organizational leaders and other successful people will tell you that you need to define what success looks like ahead of time. Developing a purple picture, a vision will help you to recognize success when you get there. The purple picture is also remembering the big picture. Once you have made a decision, doubt nibbles away at your confidence which erodes your ability to succeed. Do not let doubt seep in and poison your process. You owe it to yourself to remain confident in your vision and your plan. A vision without a plan is merely a wish. Life and work can be hard and even cruel, but I offer this purple promise “the race is not for the swift, but rather those who persevere until the end.” When your vision becomes a reality, you must remember your humble beginnings and recognize the contributions of those who helped you along the way. Ingratitude is a dangerous pitfall because it is so easy to miss.

Paint People Purple

On the purple path, you will need other people. People do not accomplish their goals to become successful solely by themselves. With every successful person there are people who have helped them along the way. There is always a reason why we meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you are the one who will change their lives. I am astounded at the number of times when people have come to my aid and helped me and my family, made a connection for me, or in some other way enriched my life, and for no benefit to themselves. This also means treating people the way you want to be treated. On the purple path to success, you must follow the golden rule and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As a Western graduate, I hope you will do the same as often as possible for others because your good deeds find their way back to you. The words “please” and “thank you” never go out of style. Finally, on this purple path to success, do not forget to stop and celebrate those small successes along the way. It can be very motivating and liberating to periodically stop and acknowledge how far you have come along the way. Take time to celebrate as you go. I wish you well as you move into the future with the same passion in which you completed your undergraduate studies. Thank you.