“President’s Remarks to the Class of 2016”

Rock Jones

OWU President Address
2016 Ohio Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony
May 8, 2016

Rock Jones delivers the OWU president address at OWU’s 2016 Commencement Ceremony. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, proud parents, grandparents and friends, and most importantly, members of the Ohio Wesleyan University Class of 2016, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to these Commencement exercises. We gather on this glorious day in the heart of this historic campus where for more than 17 decades this University has sought to provide an education that equips its graduates for leadership and service in every sector of our society.

Today, graduates, you take your place in the elite company of those who have benefited from the rigor and discipline of a liberal arts education and who bear the marks of well-rounded human beings. On this campus you have honed your intellectual capacity as your intellectual curiosity has blossomed. You have encountered ideas and explored disciplines that will shape the way you think and the manner in which you live for the rest of your lives. You have formed relationships with professors who have been your mentors and friends, with staff who have been your guides and companions, and with fellow students whose friendships you will carry with you as long as you live. You have embraced individuals whose life experiences and world views are quite different from your own. You have extended your education beyond the boundaries of this campus, studying and traveling across the country and around the world, expanding your horizons and preparing you for the global society in which you will live and work. Today, we celebrate all that you have accomplished, and we look forward to all that is to come. This is your day.

The charter that has governed Ohio Wesleyan since its founding in 1842 states that an OWU education is to be designed for the benefit of citizens in general. Building on this enduring value, an Ohio Wesleyan education today shapes moral leaders for a global society, preparing graduates who are less concerned about their own needs than about the welfare of all of society and the well-being of our entire planet.

We live in a time of deep division, anxiety, and fear. Our world is plagued by violence and acts of terror, insidious racism that stands against our most cherished values, economic disparity that leaves too many people without the basic necessities of life, and threats to the planet that gives and sustains all of life. It seems that there is much to despair.

But I rise today as an optimist. My optimism is rooted in the power of education and the potential that exists in those who practice the ancient virtue of educated citizenship. My optimism is rooted in those who commit themselves to making the world a better place. My optimism is rooted in you.

I have watched over the past four years as you have made your impact on this campus. I have watched over the past four years as you have made your impact in the surrounding community through service learning. I have watched over the past four years as you have exercised leadership in student organizations, athletic teams, and the performing arts. I have watched over the past four years as you have challenged all of us to engage in conversations that matter about topics of great importance. I have watched over the past four years as you have pushed yourselves beyond your comfort zones in order to become better prepared for the world that awaits you. I have watched over the past four years as you have cared for one another in times of tragic loss as well as in times of great celebration.

Today, as I look out on this graduating class, I have great hope. I have great hope in your potential. And I have great hope for our world. As I think about what lies ahead for you and how you will fulfill Ohio Wesleyan’s historic commitment to preparing educated citizens, I am reminded of the pledge signed for more than three decades on this campus by students of Dr. Ben Arneson. The Arneson Pledge stated, “With a view to serving the public interest and regardless of the nature of my future vocation I pledge that, upon leaving college, I will devote a portion of my time to active and definite participation in public affairs.”

I challenge you to make this pledge your own, to consider the ways in which you will devote a portion of your time to public affairs. You may do that through elected office. You may do that through community engagement. You may do that through taking a public stand at the risk of losing friends or even a job. You may do that through quiet leadership in the places where you live and among the people with whom you work. You may do that in ways that set an example for the entire world. Or you may do that in ways that are noticed by no one but collectively reshape the fabric of our society.

You will do that because here you have learned that it is better to understand than to fear; it is better to build bridges of engagement than walls of isolation; it is better to ask questions that lead to new truths than to assume you have all of the answers. Here you have learned that humility is better than arrogance; diversity has more beauty than uniformity; and respect for human dignity calls for our deepest commitments. Here you have learned to serve, and here you have learned to give.

“With a view to serving the public interest and regardless of the nature of my future vocation I pledge that, upon leaving college, I will devote a portion of my time to active and definite participation in public affairs.”

As a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan, you take your place among OWU alumni whose lives have changed our world. Today, you join social pioneer Branch Rickey, Nobel laureate Sherwood Rowland, Civil Rights activist Mary King, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Greg Moore as alumni of Ohio Wesleyan University. Today, you join their good company. You make all of us proud. And you give all of us great hope.

Congratulations and Godspeed.