BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Illinois Wesleyan University celebrated the Class of 2015 during
Commencement exercises May 3 on the Glenn '22 and Rozanne Parker Kemp '27 Commencement Plaza.
Board of Trustees President George Vinyard ’71 congratulated the more than 420 graduates
and thanked them for their contributions to the Illinois Wesleyan community. Using
the life and works of the late Maya Angelou as example, Vinyard noted Angelou imparted
great wisdom and provided a positive and forceful expression on the best in humanity.
“In your time here on campus we trust that you not only developed your intellects
but also experienced many positive and memorable feelings and reached out to and were
reached by many good hearts,” said Vinyard. “May this continue and may you warmly
remember and honor your university and your fellow alumni in the years to come.”
In his welcoming remarks, President Richard F. Wilson recognized Brandon Landau as
a member of the class. Landau lost his life in March 2012. A graduation gown was draped
on a chair in the front row, and Wilson noted each graduate would walk by the chair
as a way to pay tribute to Landau’s life and honor his memory.
Vinyard, Wilson and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jonathan D. Green conferred an
honorary doctor of humane letters degree upon Elizabeth A. Robb, a 1978 graduate.
Robb, who recently retired as chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Illinois,
delivered the Commencement address “The Power of Connection.”
Focusing on the “bridges” aspect of the University’s 2014-15 academic theme “Walls
and Bridges,” Robb reminded the graduates that a bridge forms a connection between
two things and spoke of the power of connections professionally, personally and to
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.
“I discovered this in my own professional life,” said Robb, who noted she realized
early in her career that the law is limited in its ability to adequately address the
needs of individuals who commit crimes or abuse their children.
She said three-quarters of all people incarcerated, both adult and juvenile, suffer
from behavioral health disorders and substance abuse. “After their release from prison
they re-enter their communities having received little or no treatment for these disorders,
little assistance in developing pro-social behaviors, obtaining an education or proper
vocational training,” Robb said. Only when those in the legal profession began collaborating
with mental health professionals and others, did they become more effective at changing
the behaviors of these individuals and increasing the likelihood they would become
successful, law-abiding citizens, she said.
In discussing personal connections, Robb acknowledged the value of college friendships,
teammates, sorority sisters and lab partners. “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.”
She noted a recent study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science focused on the necessity of maintaining a diverse set of 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 has made it easier to avoid
forming substantive relationships in person.
Robb acknowledged she loves her cell phone and the ability to communicate immediately
with friends and family. “I do worry that those of your generation will not form substantive
relationships in the flesh and blood,” she said. “As you move to a large city or a
new campus or venture to a new country….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…as your only social connection. Spend time in person relating to
The recently retired judge 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 IWU 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,” she said. “This is the power of
the IWU connection. Use this power.
Whether you live three blocks or 3,000 miles from campus, know that IWU…will serve
as a bridge, a connection for the rest of your life,” she added.
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.”
Senior class president Sneha Subramanian ’15 acknowledged she could not speak for
the entire class, as each person viewed graduation through a different lens, but she
spoke emotionally in expressing her gratitude for the metamorphosis that Illinois
Wesleyan facilitated within her.
“I have attended international schools all my life and my friends were always moving
around. This made it difficult for me to make connections with people,” said Subramanian,
an international student from Singapore. “Despite traveling halfway around the world,
the largest journey was within me,” she said of her experience at Illinois Wesleyan.
During the ceremony three faculty were invested as endowed professors. Those honored were: 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
In closing the ceremony, the retiring President Wilson noted the Class of 2015 will
always hold a special place for him, as this year’s Commencement is expected to 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,” Wilson 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 university.”
Several graduates organized a bead-giving tribute to Wilson. As each graduate stepped
forward to receive his or her diploma from Wilson, the student draped a strand of
beads around his neck.
He expressed his gratitude for the personal tribute provided by gifts from members
of the Class of 2015, to purchase a new bench gracing the recently completed quadrangle
north of State Farm Hall. Wilson closed the ceremony with the same admonition he has
used at Commencement in recent years:
“Search for what is true. Stand for what is just. Strive to make a difference.” This
message is engraved on the Class of 2015’s gift in honor of Wilson.