Sarah Riehl

Reflections from the Faculty

Sarah Riehl

Visiting Assistant Professor of Business Administration
The 2009 Student Senate Professor of the Year

  Listen (mp3 file)

As you read in your Commencement program, I am Sarah Riehl.  For the past eleven years it has been my good fortune to teach at Illinois Wesleyan.  While I routinely stand before approximately 25 young adults, facing this size crowd feels somewhat overwhelming.  Nevertheless, students, I humbly accept the opportunity your votes gave me.  You have honored me. And now I wish to honor each one of you by reflecting on the success you have achieved at Illinois Wesleyan.

In the Class of 2009 there are stories of successful students who are graduating with notable academic accomplishment.  To them we say bravo.  We know the enormous effort you put forth.  We admire your dedication to rigid study schedules in Ames Library and to rigorous practice time in Presser Hall, to long hours performing scientific experiments, to late nights elbow deep in oil paints, and to strenuous review sessions for the CPA exam.

In the Class of 2009 there are stories of successful students who participated in student government, in theatrical productions, in athletics or in our pep band.  We thank you for sharing your talents with us.  While we recognize that sometimes these co-curricular activities interfered with academics, we appreciate the self-discipline you exhibited when you returned once more to open the books and to take up a calculator.

In the Class of 2009 there are stories of successful students whose every ounce of energy was directed at getting this undergraduate degree. You worked one or more jobs to fund your education, you persevered even when the coursework seemed impossible, and you traveled to our campus from another country, rarely returning home during your four undergraduate years.

In the Class of 2009 there are stories of successful students who exhibited a kindness of spirit, a genuine caring for one another, a welcoming smile for a newcomer.  Your presence on campus provided comfort.  We observe that you exchanged spring breaks on the beach for spring breaks building homes, you stayed up all night to help a friend and still, you attended your 8:00 a.m. class. You wrote thank you notes to professors and even baked cookies for them.

In the Class of 2009 there are 508 of you soon to commence your lives in the so-called Real World.  You may be leaving this comfortable campus with feelings of sorrow, but also with feelings of excitement, with goals and plans that are well thought out or not.  But if pressed, my guess is that you picture yourselves traversing the Real World with long-range goals of success in mind.  How will you write that success story?

Will you label yourself a success when you are named partner at a big four accounting firm?  When you receive a permanent faculty appointment at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?  When you install water irrigation systems in remote Tanzania or inspire mass transit ridership in Los Angeles?  Or will success come when you own a home, own a business, or own a patent?  Certainly these are all strong indicators of success.

But let me suggest other possibilities.  Each one of you might also aspire to routinely donate a pint of blood, volunteer each month to prepare a meal at the local homeless shelter, or mentor a middle school youth who doesn’t believe college is possible for him.  You could respond a local fraternity's request to leave cans of food on your doorstep for a Sunday afternoon food drive, donate your talents as a tenor for a program at a local retirement home, or coach your daughter’s soccer team.

When ultimately you exit the world of paid employment, will you look back on your success story realizing that you focused all your efforts on high status and wealth?  Or, will you also write that you took to heart these words of Helen Keller?  “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they are great and noble.”

Dear students, today is the day I exit the world of paid employment.  I want you to know that it is you who have enabled my personal success story.  For this I will forever be grateful.