At commencement, new graduates are urged to stay connected to IWU and to each other.
The University honored 446 candidates for graduation during Commencement on May 3.
Elizabeth Robb, a 1978 IWU graduate, delivered the Commencement address at the Kemp
Plaza in front of State Farm Hall.
Robb, who recently retired as chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Illinois,
received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree prior to her address, titled
“The Power of Connection.”
Focusing on the “bridges” aspect of the University’s 2014-15 academic theme “Walls
and Bridges,” Robb spoke of the power of connections professionally, personally and
She said it is likely the graduates do not fully appreciate the value of their liberal
arts education, noting that she did not until long after she graduated. The opportunity
to interact with students and professors from a variety of disciplines is a hallmark
of a liberal arts education, but that opportunity becomes much more difficult in graduate
or professional school and in workplaces, Robb said. People need to consciously strive
to move outside of their comfort zones to connect with others who are different or
spend their lives in vastly different fields.
Of the many connections made during the graduates’ time at Wesleyan, “not all of these
connections will remain as strong and as important to you as they are today,” she
said. “But many will. Some will sustain you the rest of your life.” Robb also spoke
of the strong connection she has maintained with IWU and its people for more than
25 years, including her service on the Associates board, supervising interns and counting
other alumni among her closest friends.
“When an IWU graduate sends me a resume, or calls to ask for help in finding a summer
internship or a full-time job, I eagerly assist. This is the power of the IWU connection.
Use this power.”
Robb noted a recent study on the need to maintaining diverse social connections as
key to managing stress, improving our immune systems and giving meaning to our lives.
The study said technology such as texting and social media makes it easier to avoid
forming substantive relationships in person. She urged the graduates to “nurture the
friendships you have made here, and consciously work to form new ones wherever you
go. Don’t rely on Facebook, match.com, Instagram, Twitter. Spend time in person relating
to one another.”
Another invited speaker, R. Given Harper, the 2015 Student Senate Professor of the
Year, also acknowledged our digital world where we can communicate, shop and work
without leaving our homes. “It is imperative that you get out and collaborate with
others to address the major challenges affecting society,” said Harper, the George
C. and Ella Beach Lewis Endowed Chair of Biology and an avian ecologist. “I urge you
to get out and experience the natural world, which provides the conditions necessary
to sustain life. By experiencing nature you will have a better understanding of the
reasons that we need to protect it, and you will find that its beauty can also be
a powerful source of inspiration.”
Three faculty were invested as endowed professors: Educational Studies Professor and
Chair Irv Epstein to the new Ben and Susan Rhodes Endowed Professorship in Peace and
Social Justice; Associate Professor of History Gordon Horwitz to the new Davis U.
Merwin Endowed Professorship in History; and English Professor James Plath to the
R. Forrest Colwell Endowed Chair of English.
Closing the ceremony, President Richard F. Wilson noted the Class of 2015 will hold
a special place for him, as its Commencement will likely be the last over which he
will preside as president. “I shall leave with wonderful memories of your spirit,
your creativity and your passion and with deep appreciation for the many kind messages
and thoughtful gestures you have extended my wife and me over the last few months,”
he said. “My fondest hope is that your life and career will be filled with as many
exciting moments and rewarding opportunities as I have had as president of this wonderful