|Top, The Class of 2005 processes on Eckley Quadrangle. Above, President Richard F. Wilson takes his hat off to the class after declaring them new graduates.|
May 1, 2005
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Dr. Gregory A. Poland, one of the world's leading experts in vaccine development, told Illinois Wesleyan University's graduating seniors that they will need courage to face the challenges of a "wild world" that they are entering.
Poland, a 1977 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan, was the principal speaker at the University's annual commencement exercises, which were held on the Eckley Quadrangle on a brisk, windy afternoon when 483 seniors received their bachelor's degrees.
In his remarks, Poland, the founder and director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, told the seniors that they must now "discern and protect what is worthy" while having the courage "to face and stand against what is harmful."
"It falls to you to make choices that will have ramifications for decades to come, and to make it a better world," Poland said. "It will take courage, and then some, in this wild world."
The world in which the students will begin the next phase of their lives, said Poland, has incredible medical and scientific possibilities, "where yesterday's science fiction is today's reality." It is also a world, he said, of "unparalleled wealth and learning. But also a world where too many children have no medical care or enough to eat, a world where corporate greed is deeply embedded, a world at war — where Americans are deployed around the globe and stand in harm's way, and a country where one out of every 37 American adults is behind bars — the highest incarceration rate in the world."
Poland referred to the "acute and overriding sense of responsibility" that he felt when he assisted the New York City Police Department in confronting the possibility of bioterrorism immediately following the 9/11 attacks and also when he advised the Assistant Secretary of Defense on the use of anthrax and smallpox vaccines for citizens and for U.S. military troops.
"Courage in the face of fear will allow you to prevail," he told the graduates. "Go at it with courage, sustain it with courage, finish it with courage, insist upon courage. Give your country and those around you the gift of courage."
Poland was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
In addition to Poland's address, the graduates heard from the president of their class, Chelsey D. Hillyer of Macomb, Ill., who told them to remember that the process of following their passion can lead them in unexpected directions.
"What I have learned about passions, goals and dreams," she said, "[is that] they complicate things in the best possible way. I hope you take this lesson and carry it with you into your futures, be it in a career, further education, or in life in general. You have learned here that the detours are important; keep taking them. Getting lost is acceptable, so long as you are getting somewhere new."
In his final remarks to the graduation class, Illinois Wesleyan President Richard F. Wilson told the graduates that he hoped that they would focus on making a difference.
"You know there are challenges ahead -— for you as individuals, for us as a society," Wilson said. "But I believe you will relish in those challenges, that you will see them as opportunities to apply the lessons that you have learned here and the values that you have nurtured here. Most importantly, I hope that you will use your knowledge and skills to make a difference in the world."
During the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed in memory of two members of the Class of 2005, Ashley Wilson and Brian Wright, who died while they were students.
In addition, there was a tribute to James Matthews, who is retiring as Dean of Students to return full-time to the faculty.
There were a number of special awards announced during the ceremony, including the first Jack C. Fields Prize for Excellence in Accounting, which went to Amanda Christine Thorson of Cornell, Ill. The award was established through gifts in honor of Fields, an Illinois Wesleyan alumnus and the University's Registrar, who died in October 2004.