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Continue on your Pathways of Success

2017 Spring Centennial Honors Convocation Address

Dr. Jack Thomas, President - Friday, May 12, 2017 (Macomb campus) & Sunday, May 14, 2017 (Quad Cities campus)

Good afternoon. To the honors college staff, the faculty, the parents and guardians and especially to the 2017 graduates, I am delighted to take part in this Honors Convocation.

Students, this is your time! Your journey here at Western Illinois University has been well spent. The hour has come. You are now getting ready to take a great step that will direct your path in life. I suggest that before you begin to do anything, you must first thank your parents, your grandparents, your guardians, your mentors, your supporters and those faculty and staff who have helped you to get to where you are today. Let’s give them a round of applause.

Graduates, this is the beginning of a new day where your opportunities are many. Each of you is in attendance at this honors convocation because you have achieved a certain amount of success in your life. The steps that have enabled your achievements have now opened your lives to a vast array of possibilities. However, your work is not done.

Be creative and know that you can succeed further with proper planning, staying focused and having specific goals in mind. Regarding creativity, world-renowned economist John Maynard Keynes once said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” You must think big, dream big, and achieve your goals. According to the “Secret of Successful Mountain Climbing,” if you aim at nothing, you will hit nothing. If your goals are vague, your achievements will be vague also. However, if your goals are specific, you will harvest specific results. It is imperative that you are very specific and that you aim high.

Through your education, you have gained a great deal of knowledge that has prepared you for your lifelong journey. On your journey, you must remember the three R’s of life: Respect, Responsibility and Resolve. You must have respect for yourself, respect for your fellow man and respect for humanity. You must be responsible for your actions, and you must be responsible for the choices you make in life. Choose to pursue with greatness any task that is placed before you. Resolve to do your best and to be the best in all you attempt to do.

You have a unique set of gifts and talents, and I implore you to apply these skills and talents to improve this world. You must have your own plan and be proactive. Too often people spend a lifetime reacting instead of being proactive. You cannot afford to get caught up in other people’s feelings, moods and thoughts. If your lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because you have chosen to empower those people and things around you and you allow them to take control. If you really want to make a difference, you must be involved in achieving goals that count, instead of getting caught up in the busy-ness of life.

In order to be successful, you must know who you are and the kinds of people you need around you who will help catapult you into your careers. Create a web of individuals who have good morals, values and just good old everyday common sense. You see there are some people who make things happen, some people who watch things happen, and some people who simply wonder what happened. Make things happen.

You have taken advantage of obtaining a high quality education, but your learning is not finished. This is just the beginning. Take every opportunity to continue to learn, stretch and grow. Continue to grow intellectually, but pursue ways to grow socially and culturally as well.

As with everything in life, you will get out of it what you put into it. Continue to work hard and strive for making people and things around you better. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo 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 to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” Strive for this type of greatness as you begin your post-graduation pursuits.

My challenge to you today is to reach down inside to that creative power - that something inside so strong - and give birth to a new individual who is prepared for the challenges of the future. Do not be afraid to take a piercing look at yourself and other individuals to determine what will launch you into a hopeful and successful future and what will keep you stumbling blindly in the past. Do not be afraid to defend your position, but do not defend it foolishly - without thought, careful consideration and planning.

To the accomplished graduates with us today, there is no great secret to success. There is no magical, mythical answer. Like anything else, something that is beneficial to you is not going to be easy. Success lies in having a vision, being focused, planning for success, and seeing it through to the end with determination and hard work. We will stumble, and we will fall in our pursuit of excellence. But with each obstacle that we meet comes an opportunity to learn, grow and develop a new strategy for survival. We call this type of perseverance “grit.” Noted author Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote, “Grit is that 'extra something' that separates the most successful people from the rest. It's the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality.”

Success is not a destination, but can be reached at points along the journey. Along your pathways to success seek positive roles models who know who they are and where they are going. Communicate well with others. Commit yourselves to being a total individual and have the courage to stand. Yes, you can continue to achieve success and accomplish great things in your life.

Finally, I want to leave you with these thought-provoking words: “Go forth in great spirit. Continue to make your mark in society. As you continue to climb the ladder of success, you will find that life is full of splinters, but they pluck the hardest when you are sliding down, so keep on climbing and keep on striving for excellence.”

Thank you.