As Mother Nature delivered a picture-perfect day for Commencement 2017, some 400 graduates
and their guests honored venerated traditions and toasted new beginnings.
Story by KIM HILL Photos by MARC FEATHERLY & ROBERT FRANK III '14
When college days are fully past and gone, While life endures from twilight dream till dawn, Grandly thy soul shall with us linger on — Star-crowned our Alma Mater Wesleyan!
As the Class of 2017 stood to sing “Alma Wesleyana” for the first time as IWU graduates
at the close of May Commencement exercises, it felt like the perfect ending to one
of the most gorgeous graduation days in recent memory.
Written in 1935 by IWU Professor W.E. Schultz, “Alma Wesleyana” was just one of the
traditions remembered during the University’s Commencement, held May 7 on the Glenn
’22 and Rozanne Parker Kemp ’27 Commencement Plaza in front of State Farm Hall. In
greeting the more than 400 new Illinois Wesleyan graduates and their families and
friends, Board of Trustees member David Wilkins ’74 reminded the audience of long-held core values embraced by the University. Those
include striving to help students develop the intellectual and moral capacity to think
deeply about the important things in life and to live in a manner that is consistent
with the values reflected in the University’s motto Scientia et Sapientia, generally translated as “knowledge and wisdom.”
Wilkins also quoted the late John Glenn, astronaut and U.S. Senator: “If there is
one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most
fulfilled people … are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound
than merely their own self-interest.” Wilkins said he hoped the graduates would strive
to live with care and commitment to things larger than their own self-interests and
create a future of greater knowledge, wisdom, and fulfillment.
Representing the faculty, Student Senate Professor of the Year Carolyn Jarvis also congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to take a long view in pursuing
a career. A first job is important and exciting, she said, but it may not be a career.
A nursing student, Jarvis said she had secured a position at Northwestern Hospital
in the fall after her own graduation. While she was still a student, however, a recruiter
from Lake Tahoe, Nevada, visited her college, and she found herself signing up to
learn to deal blackjack in a casino.
“That summer job taught me a number of valuable things,” Jarvis recalled. She found
she loved nature, the San Francisco art scene, and that she could travel alone and
make new friends. The third thing she learned, she said, “is that the odds are with
the house, and as a result, I have never gambled as a customer.”
In addition to a career as a nurse practitioner and nurse educator, Jarvis said she
has also spent most of her career writing textbooks and articles. She owed her first
article, she said, to an office colleague who passed an opportunity to write an article
on physical examination to Jarvis. “When opportunities come up, take the risk, and
grab them,” said Jarvis, who is the author of North America’s most widely used health
assessment textbook. “Remember, you have 45 years in your career. Relax and enjoy
Class President Marissa Cozzi ’17 spoke on behalf of the graduates. She said throughout their time at IWU, her classmates
were given the opportunities not just to find themselves, but to actually create themselves.
“Over the last four years, we have made connections that will last a lifetime, shared
endless laughs, memories, and a lot of stress,” Cozzi said.
“But after all this, we learned that if something is important to you, you will find
a way; if not, you will find an excuse,” she said. “This ceremony is called ‘commencement’
for a reason. The fundamental definition of commencement is ‘a beginning or start.’
This is the beginning of the rest of our lives, and no matter where life takes us,
we are always welcome home to Illinois Wesleyan.”
During the ceremony, an honorary doctor of humane letters was bestowed upon Samuel Porritt III ’84. He is founder of the Falling Forward Foundation, the only nonprofit organization
in the U.S. that funds the continued rehabilitation of patients recovering from catastrophic
medical issues after insurance stops paying. Porritt started Falling Forward after
spending two years in extensive rehabilitation to recover from a spinal cord injury.
(Read more about Porritt on page 11.)
Kathleen M. Murray ’79, the president of Whitman College in Washington, also received an honorary doctorate
before giving the Commencement address. A music major at Illinois Wesleyan, Murray
spent 19 years at Lawrence University as piano faculty member and administrator. She
served as provost and dean at Macalester College for seven years before becoming president
of Whitman in 2015. Murray based her Commencement remarks on a quote from Eleanor
Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Murray noted that as she was sitting in the same place as the graduates 38 years ago,
“I didn’t allow myself many opportunities to dream in those days. I was a first-generation
college student, from a totally blue-collar family in Davenport, Iowa … and had absolutely
no idea what I might do next.”
Murray said she may not have been a big dreamer as a young adult, but she was a big
believer. She said her parents had instilled a belief in their five children that
they could do anything they wanted as long as they were willing to work really hard.
She said she hoped the graduates all shared the belief that hard work would open the
door to great opportunities. Those dreams are especially important, she said, in moments
of uncertainty and challenge.
“You are graduating from college at a time of significant uncertainty and challenge
around the globe,” said Murray. Turning inward to just take care of yourself, she
said, will close you off from all of the possibilities that are not apparent, except
in your dreams.
She told those assembled that two ideas are important for all college graduates at
this particular moment in time. One she hoped the Class of 2017 would continue to
pursue, she said, and the other she hoped the graduates would avoid.
“I urge you to continue to develop your capacity for empathy, for the ability to understand,
even to share the feelings of others, to experience life as if you were standing in
someone else’s shoes,” she said. The Illinois Wesleyan experience helps build this
capacity, she said, as students live and learn “with people from different parts of
the country and the world, different racial and ethnic groups, different socioeconomic
backgrounds, different political and religious views,” she said. “Our ability collectively
to make the world a better place depends, at least in part, on having the courage
to combat evil by displaying imaginative empathy.”
Murray urged the graduates to avoid cynicism, which derives from a belief that people
are generally dishonest and motivated solely by self-interest. “I work hard, even
if I am not always successful, to base my work on the assumption that people are looking
out for the best interests of others, and I hope people will give me the same benefit,”
said Murray. “The distrust and disillusionment that results from cynicism squashes
creativity of thought, and creativity is essential if we are to make the world a better
Also observing the word “commencement” means “beginning” or “start,” Murray noted
the graduates are beginning the next phases of their lives and figuring out what that
means and what the future might hold. “The educational privilege you have experienced
these last four years carries with it enormous responsibility,” she said “Responsibility
to give back — to your family, to your college, your community, the world.”
She said she loved her time at IWU, and she told the audience she has loved nearly
all of the last 38 years because she has learned to believe in the beauty of her dreams.
“I wish the same for you as you commence today,” she said.
President Eric Jensen told the class of 2017 they would hold a prominent place in
his memory as the first group he’s had a full year as president to get to know. He
described the graduates as “a spectacular group” and said his parting words to them
would be simple: “Remember who you are, remember how you got there, and remember Illinois