“President’s Remarks to the Classes of 2020 and 2021”
Dr. Rock Jones
OWU President Address
176th and 177th Ohio Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony
May 29, 2021
Members of the Ohio Wesleyan University graduating Classes of 2020 and 2021, faculty and staff, parents, families and friends, it is with great joy that I welcome you to this unique, long-awaited, and in-person Commencement ceremony.
No amount of rain can dampen the joy in the air today.
After what you have been through the past year, this truly feels like a Commencement more than any I have ever experienced.
To the Class of 2020, welcome home. You have waited more than a year for this moment, after losing the final weeks of your senior year on campus. We are thrilled to have you back at OWU.
To the Class of 2021, your resilience, creativity, and determination over the past 14 months have inspired all of us, day after day, and week after week. We are so very proud of each one of you.
Graduates of both classes, this is your day.
Today, we celebrate all that you have accomplished, and we honor who you have become during your years on this campus.
Today, in this historic stadium built nearly a century ago, you take your place alongside tens of thousands of those who came before you and, with the benefit of their time here, earned this distinction: alumni of Ohio Wesleyan University.
Like you, those who came before benefitted from the rigor of an educational experience that challenged assumptions, honed intellectual capacity, fostered creativity, and inspired a sense of inquiry and the pursuit of discovery. Like you, they benefitted from relationships with faculty and staff who took special interest and who became teachers, mentors, and friends.
Like you, they formed relationships with fellow students that will never be forgotten.
But your experience was different. Your time on this campus came to an end in a moment defined by a pandemic that gripped the entire planet. I suspect you will always be recalled as the COVID Classes of 2020 and 2021.
You are the classes that were abruptly sent home. You found yourself studying in spaces not designed for academic work. You attended classrooms defined by small squares on your laptop screen, or even smaller squares on your phone. You engaged in research and completed internships in virtual environments. You wore masks, practiced social distance, monitored your health, and took COVID tests.
And yet, from my view, that is not the real story. The real story is the creativity, ingenuity, and profound commitment you brought to the work before you. You never stopped. You persisted. And today, we can say not only that you are as well prepared as those who went before you; we can say that with the lessons learned in this pandemic, you are well prepared for what lies ahead.
In a pandemic, you expanded your capacity for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. You asked big questions, and you sought answers from multiple disciplines.
You cared for one another, continuing to develop capacities of empathy that are so important for leaders. You found ways to continue to grow, on the playing fields and in the performance studios.
You engaged in difficult conversations and took actions advocating for justice in a society in which the plague of racism is deeply embedded. You challenged OWU to be a better place, more inclusive, and more fully aligned with the values we profess.
You did all of this in the grips of a pandemic, massive social unrest, and environmental disasters. And now we can say with confidence, you are ready.
And, graduates, we need you.
You are uniquely prepared to step forward into a post-pandemic world. You are ready to confront the wicked problems and provide leadership that seeks solutions on which the future of our society depends, and the well-being of our planet hangs.
As you leave OWU, you leave your mark on this campus. Future generations of students will have opportunities here that would not exist had you not come our way. Let me share just a few:
- You formed LA CASA, a vibrant new small living unit community.
- You completed internships across the United States and in countries around the world, opening doors for future Bishops.
- You helped launch the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University.
- You were here in a time marked by division, but you found ways to come together, to bridge differences, and to push forward our campus conversation about race and inequity.
We are different – we are better – because of your time here.
When you visited OWU as high school seniors, I invited you to think about three questions. What do you care about? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be?
This morning I return to those questions as you prepare for what is ahead.
What do you care about? What passions have been ignited by your time here?
Where do you want to go? What is the trajectory for your life as a result of these years at OWU?
Who do you want to be? How has your life been forever shaped by this experience?
One of your parents said to me recently, the graduate who crosses the stage in a few weeks is not the same person who arrived four years ago. That is the power of an OWU education. That is the wonder of a college that changes lives. And you are the living evidence of that wonder.
I have a word for those who sit behind you in these stadium bleachers today. Today, they bask in the glory of your accomplishment. Parents and grandparents, siblings and friends, I congratulate you, and I thank you for sharing with this campus the lives you cherish the most. These graduates have done well, and in the future, they will do much good.
Graduates, today we celebrate all you have accomplished at OWU. But more importantly, we look forward, with confidence, with gratitude, and with joy, to all that is ahead. You will be Bishops. We will follow you with interest and with pride.
Congratulations, on this, your day, and welcome to this Commencement ceremony.