Choosing IWU Alum for Commencement Speaker Embraces Spirit of Ceremony

Editorial from The Argus
April 21, 2006

Michael A. Mason, acting executive assistant director for administration for the FBI in Washington, D.C., will give the commencement address to Illinois Wesleyan University’s Class of 2006 on April 30. Mason is more than just an important public figure -- he’s also a 1980 IWU alumnus, and we’re glad.

In recent years, the trend of choosing alumni as commencement speakers has been popular, and with good reason: who’s more likely to inspire graduates than those who have actually sat through a graduation ceremony at IWU as students?

We’re not saying that speakers who aren’t IWU graduates can’t be inspirational as well. However, for a graduation ceremony, a time when seniors are getting ready to enter the real world, it’s impressive to hear from someone who’s been in their shoes … and not only survived, but succeeded as well.

Sure, you could find more famous speakers if the pool wasn’t limited to IWU alums. We’ve hosted big name non-alumni in recent years; former Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke in 2001, and filmmaker Kevin Smith was here in 2000.

But at our annual graduation ceremony, the IWU community should remember its own graduates. We’ve turned out individuals like 2005’s speaker, Dr. Gregory A. Poland, the founder and director of the Mayor Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, and Carlina Tapia-Ruano, a nationally known immigration lawyer who was the speaker in 2004. Both graduated from IWU in 1977.

Why not let seniors be inspired by someone like Mason, this year’s speaker? When he graduated from IWU, Mason was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he achieved the rank of captain prior to his honorable discharge in 1984. Soon after, he was sworn in as a special agent for the FBI, often working under cover. Since 2003, he’s been the assistant director in charge of the Washington Field Office and has participated in recent high-profile cases, such as anthrax and cyber-crime investigations.

Sounds like an amazing career to us. And to think 22 years ago, Michael A. Mason was in the exact same situation that this year’s Class of 2006 will be in just about a week from today. From his IWU beginnings, Mason has launched himself into a fascinating and significant career. He’s done something important with his life. He’s made an impact on the world. Our Class of 2006 should be inspired to do the same.

Graduation shouldn’t be about finding the most recognizable or trendiest speaker. It shouldn’t be a pedestal for pop culture or politics, It should be, very simply, about the graduates and the IWU community.

Bravo to those who chose to bring an IWU alum to give the 2006 commencement address. We hope you’ll do the same thing again next year.

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