“President’s Remarks to the Class of 2017”

Rock Jones

OWU President Address
2017 Ohio Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony
May 13, 2017

Rock Jones delivers the OWU president address at OWU’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Good afternoon, and welcome to the 173rd Commencement on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. The faculty and staff join me in extending a special welcome to the families and friends of our graduating seniors and in extending our heartiest congratulations to the 383 graduates who sit before us today.

Graduates, this is your day. You have worked long and hard to complete the journey that brings you to this moment. Today, gathered beneath ancient trees and surrounded by historic buildings where students and faculty have learned together for 175 years, you join the ranks of educated citizens as alumni of Ohio Wesleyan University. Today marks the completion of your undergraduate education, but in many ways your lifelong education has only begun.

With the benefits of a liberal arts education, you have honed the capacities for lifelong learning that prepare you for leadership in a rapidly changing world.

Here you have learned to think critically and analytically, to communicate thoughtfully and persuasively, to listen empathetically to a plethora of perspectives, and to value beauty.

Here you have developed relationships that will nurture you for a lifetime. Here you have engaged passions that will ignite your intellectual creativity and fuel your pursuit of a better life.

Here you have confronted injustice and made commitments to strive for a more humane world. Here you encountered what it means to be a global citizen.

Two-thirds of you spent time outside of your home country as part of your OWU experience. One of you traveled to 15 countries.

You have worked with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland; you studied the Berimbau, a musical instrument with a heritage in Angola, and its impact on the culture of Brazil; and you traveled with faculty in travel-learning courses to two dozen countries.

Together, you elected a classmate from Afghanistan to serve for three years on our Board of Trustees.

Here, you encountered the world. You became the OWU Connection. And, as one of you said to me recently, here, on this campus, you have grown up.

As you prepare to leave Ohio Wesleyan, I want to pause for a moment to consider the impact you have had on this campus.

You leave a lasting legacy here at OWU.

As student leaders, you advocated for a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion. SIAC, the Student Inclusion Advocacy Committee, is your creation and your legacy.

You participated in the design of new buildings housing the SLU community, and you watched the re-opening of Merrick Hall and the Simpson Querrey Fitness Center.

You were passionate and articulate advocates for the future of the House of Black Culture.

You witnessed one of the most acrimonious and divisive presidential campaigns in our nation’s history, and while you represented both sides of the political aisle, you did so with civility and a commitment to understanding, engagement, and shared commitment to the values of democracy rarely seen today.

You launched the Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER) and Hispanic and Latinx Outreach (HALO), the International Queer Film Festival, and the wrestling club, which will now become a varsity sport. You reimagined the Modern Foreign Language House as the House of Linguistic Diversity (H.O.L.D), and the Women’s House as the Sexual and Gender Equity House (S.A.G.E.).

You participated in the March for Science, the Women's March, and the March for Life.

You achieved success and recognition in athletic competition, and you touched our hearts and challenged our thinking with your artistic performances and creations.

You enriched campus life with new traditions, including this week’s Final Lap, which will become a favorite of OWU students for years to come.

Yes, you have made your mark on this campus. You will not soon be forgotten.

Four years ago when most of you first gathered to begin your journey here, we talked about an education that prepares moral leaders for a global society. We talked about the challenges your generation will inherit and the ways in which an OWU education would prepare you to meet those challenges.

When I welcomed you to Ohio Wesleyan, I reminded you that our charter, written 175 years ago, sets as our mission the commitment to liberal arts education, to serving a diverse student body (represented in the charter by a commitment to religious diversity), and to an “education designed for the benefit of our citizens in general.”

At the time, I told you my interpretation of an education designed for the benefit of citizens in general: It’s an education that is not just about you.

Rather, it’s about the impact you will have on the world. It’s about what you will do as entrepreneurs and artists; as leaders in business, public service, and healthcare; and as engaged citizens. It’s about your role as moral leaders in our global society.

And so today, at a time when there is much distress in our world, I rise as an optimist. I rise as an optimist who sees in you the potential for a more just world, a more civil society, and a more protected planet.

As I think about your commitments, I am reminded again 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 and to making the world a better place.

You are the threads in the fabric of our society. Be strong. Be vibrant. Be connected.

To your parents, families, and others gathered here, I offer our collective gratitude for your role in shaping the lives of these graduates. To our seniors, I offer my wholehearted congratulations. You will be missed on this campus. But we will be following you, and we will be watching for the ways you fulfill the highest aspirations of OWU, wherever you go, and whatever you do.

Congratulations on this, your day.

Godspeed.