In addition to Juan Salgado’s keynote address, the University’s 163rd Commencement ceremonies on May 5 were marked by several other memorable speeches. Here are some highlights from those remarks (with photos by IWU Photographer Marc Featherly).
George Vinyard ’71, chair of the Illinois Wesleyan Board of Trustees
… As an institution of higher learning, we strive to help our students develop the curiosity and intellectual and moral capacity to think deeply about the important things in life and to live in a manner that is consistent with the best values as reflected in our motto — Scientia et Sapientia — generally translated, “Knowledge and Wisdom.” …
But all of this is rather abstract. The recent passing of the great film critic Roger Ebert reminds us that the specific ways in which we perceive the world and express ourselves in it are vitally important.
In his book Life Itself, Ebert wrote: “I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me.”
And he also said this: “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. … If, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. … We must try to contribute joy to the world.”
May each of you not only be the principal actor in the movie of your life, but also have the good fortune to be the writer and director, with total creative control. And may you be blessed with joyous audiences and kind critics. …
Meghan Burke, assistant professor of sociology and 2013 Student Senate Professor of the Year
… I’m here to tell you that you’re all a bunch of dorks.
Now, this may sound like depressing news. But instead I want you to see it as a badge of honor. You see, you are not geeks. Geeks are full of zest but don’t have the goods to back it up. In your time here at Illinois Wesleyan you have learned to fuse your passions with knowledge, careful insight, and your growing expertise in the fields that you once merely “geeked out” over.
You’re also not nerds. Nerds have all the information and technical expertise, but little to no perspective or passion. Even as you have developed specialized knowledge, learned technical jargon and received advanced training, you have refused to become narrow or insular. You’ve studied abroad, worked with a faculty member on research to ask and answer questions far more difficult than those you started with, closed the books to take in a provocative theatre or musical performance, and even wrote some poetry along the way.
No, for these reasons, you are dorks. Dorks are the epitome of the liberal arts tradition. You are math dorks with a vision to share with others its elegance and its philosophy. You are trained in medical fields with an eye toward both disparities and innovations. You are a business student who partnered with the local community, and came away with a new definition of growth. You have studied literature and made connections to your political science courses; you are a sociologist who understands biologically what Foucault meant by the “capillary functioning of power.” You have begun to follow developments in your field in your spare time, discussing what you learn and care about with your friends and your family. You can likewise talk to your friends in other fields, and tell jokes in French or in Spanish. Only dorks can really achieve this balance of knowledge, perspective and passion. Only dorks can truly embrace the kind of education you’ve received here at Illinois Wesleyan, and we know from our alums, even those dorks just a year or two out, that it will serve you well in your future. …
Ted Delicath ’13
… My relative youth and life’s unpredictability hinder me from providing you with specific advice, so I believe the only way to properly proceed is to begin where many Wesleyan speeches end, with that ever-so-frequently cited Minor Myers quote. Before you tune out, I promise I don’t want to travel the traditional path. Instead, I want explore what our former president meant when he asked all Wesleyan students to, “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”
… I fear we see doing good as a specific set of tasks that involve charity and volunteerism. The building of houses and serving at soup kitchens certainly do good. They humble us and teach us to have empathy. But doing good is more than an act, it is an outlook on life; an optimistic approach to problem solving that looks at circumstances in terms of assets rather than flaws. Doing good is when a single mother or father must go it alone and doesn’t allow their children or themselves to use their adverse circumstance as a crutch. Doing good is when a family in Uganda gives the only white kid in the village a bed and teaches you that happiness is not contingent on cable or Wi-Fi.
For me the most impactful example of doing good comes from my hero — and for those of you that have heard me talk about Andrew Weishar (a member of the class of 2013, who died in October 2012) in the past, I’m sorry, but such a grand figure deserves further mention on a grand stage: When pitted against terminal circumstances, Andrew said, “I’m not done fighting yet.” His optimism in the face of seemingly hopeless conditions exemplifies that we can do good, but more importantly, that we must.
I admit that my conception of good is a little different than most, but I urge you to consider it. Because without the sequential layering of optimism, on top of empathy that leads to action, I don’t believe we will have the passion or the motivation to do good. …