Reflections from the Faculty
Associate Professor of Political Science
Student Senate Professor of the Year
Listen to Dr. Shaw
Good afternoon. It’s a real pleasure to visit with you on this commencement day. Your
vote of confidence is among other things flattering, especially considering the grief
I gave many of you as you endured my classes over the past few years. As someone whose
teaching style is considered by some students to be an acquired taste, I’m encouraged
that you invited me here today. It’s also humbling to be counted among the company
of so many very talented members of our faculty of our Illinois Wesleyan family. Thank
you for this honor.
I’d like to talk to you about gifts. Over the last several years you have received
many of them: support from family and friends and teachers, scholarships, opportunities
to travel and experience other cultures, exercises in leadership, and even perhaps
the occasional person who actually believed that your dog ate your homework. Most
importantly, you have been given chances to spend a lot of time reading and thinking
and writing. With a little luck and some determination, you’ll carve out time in your
life to continue doing those things for a very long time to come.
You have also given much. You have worked very hard, sacrificing not only the opportunity
to participate fully in the labor market over these past few years but also a good
bit of sleep and time away from the momentary pleasures to be here instead. You’ve
paid more for books and … well, other college expenses … than you and perhaps your
parents care to recall. But beyond this, you have given more important things: You
have taken time to help your peers understand statistics problems, the use of the
subjunctive in languages other than your own, accounting and economic principles,
and the list goes on. You have also given much to the faculty. You have written us
thoughtful papers to read and have taken an interest in our artistry and our research.
You have allowed us now and then to share in the joys and difficulties of your personal
lives, from scholarship competitions, to family crises, and everything in between.
In my own case, you have co-authored papers with me, you have achieved great academic
successes, you have babysat my children, and a few of you have come to share your
tears during your low points. But perhaps most important of all, you have protested
on occasion that you disagree with my premise or the way I have framed a question
and have then pressed on to pose a creative alternative, which led me to change my
view of the world. You have shared much with us, and we are all richer for it. As
my friend, Jim Sikora, suggested to you just a few weeks ago, you have been about
the business of building social capital. In the process, each of you has become far
more than you were when you first entered our lives, and we are happy not only for
the things you have given us, but more importantly, for what you have become.
Now, taking slight liberties with the often-cited passage from the 11th chapter of
Ecclesiastes, we are told that when we cast our bread upon the water, it comes back
– well, buttered. Generosity is, after all, contagious. By sharing what we have we
not only improve our own corner of the world, but we experience a payback many times
over. Members of this graduating class will soon be busy as teachers, nurses, community
activists, graduate students, bankers, Peace Corps volunteers, actors, and accountants.
Regardless of your calling, discovering ways to answer it while casting your bread
upon the water will pay you back in ways that most of you can only vaguely imagine
right now. Strive to be the most generous person you know. It pays amazing dividends,
and it is your obligation, because you are among the privileged.
Now, I’m not asking you to feel guilty about being privileged. Rather, I’m asking
you to pass it on. You have learned more during these four years more than you perhaps
realize. In the spirit of commencements, now is the time to put that to work. Teach
someone something new every day. Think of it as showing off if you like. Reach out
to people who don’t look like you when your organization needs a new employee. That
person’s fresh thinking may be your salvation. Help build labor markets that honor
motherhood, and remember always that a having a uterus should not be a handicap. You,
after all, came from one. Speak up in the face of discrimination. When you do, you
will make meaningful friends very quickly. Read a book with a child every chance you
get. It’s great fun.
In the end, we are not just talking about confronting injustice – although that’s
very important too. I’m talking about giving of yourselves in ways that will allow
you to live into your full potential and will foster the same among those around you.
Gifts cannot be demanded, but you’ll find that the more you give, the more you get.
So cast your bread, and we will all eat better.
Congratulations on this great day of beginnings, and thank you very much for this