Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton’s 2012 message to Washington University’s graduates

Congratulations to our newest alumni, Class of 2012! You have accomplished an enormous amount, and you have even greater potential than when you began your studies here. You have earned a degree, but you have done more than grow intellectually. You have also matured emotionally and socially. Your newly acquired education will serve you well throughout your life, and the Washington University friendships and memories are ones I hope you return to often.

You have been involved in very significant service activities, including Relay for Life, Dance Marathon, Mr. WashU and Service First, and these have brought benefits to many. Many have been involved in programs through the Gephardt Institute, Campus Y, religious or Greek organizations. In these and many other public service activities, students have been creators and leaders in supporting our community.

To the graduating seniors, thank you for your generous class gift to support scholarships for future students. More than 74 percent of the graduating seniors have made a gift to support this effort. To all students, thank you for making Washington University a stronger university.

We have had fun and excitement in athletics. Thanks to outstanding athletes and excellent coaching, Washington University is now ranked as the number one Division III NCAA program in the nation.

New graduates have also competed successfully in academic programs. For example, law graduates Justin Lepp, Nick Rosinia and Mikela Sutrina recently won the National Appellate Advocacy Competition, the largest and most competitive event for law students in the United States.

You have performed and supported theater, music and dance, and you have enhanced our cultural understanding through Black Anthology, Carnival, Diwali, the PowWow, and the Lunar New Year Festival.

Many of you have been involved in research and other creative work that will enhance the quality of life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve such talented students and to see your success here. But you have not realized success on your own. Graduates have been supported by parents and other family members, by friends, and by Washington University faculty, staff and advisers.

And many among you have been supported by generous donors who have provided scholarship gifts to support students. Graduates, would you join me in thanking those who have supported you in realizing your success here?

As I expect for our newest alumni, our Class of 1962 has certainly achieved a great deal in the 50 years since their graduation. We celebrate them and their achievements.

Let’s look back to 1962. The popular singers included Bob Dylan, Chubby Checker, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and Roy Orbison. The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records, but 1962 did see the release of their first recording: “Love Me Do.” Popular television shows included The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Johnny Carson began his remarkable 30-year run as host of The Tonight Show. Artist Andy Warhol premiered his famous exhibit of Campbell’s Soup Cans.

1962 was also the year of the Cuban missile crisis. President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on Oct. 22, 1962, and announced the presence of offensive Soviet missiles in Cuba. He declared that there would be a blockade of Cuba that began the next day, to preclude further buildup of Soviet offensive strength.

On the brink of nuclear war, President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev resolved the crisis in a matter of days with the U.S. agreeing not to invade Cuba and to remove its missiles from Turkey and the Soviet Union agreeing to remove its missiles from Cuba. It was this crisis that led to the establishment of a direct communication hot line between Moscow and Washington, D.C.

Fifty years later, we still face major international issues. The challenges are different to be sure. But international security remains a major concern.

The U.S. continues to be vigilant in waging the War on Terror. In just the past two weeks, an undercover agent stopped an effort to have a bomb brought aboard a commercial airliner. International security is not our only challenge.

We face major problems from the growing and aging global population, including the need to produce more food and energy without adverse environmental effects. We face the challenge of overcoming poverty and its attendant problems confronting the more than 2 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day. Many people suffer poor health, stemming from lack of basic necessities such as clean water and nutritious food. The developed world faces global economic problems of a scale not experienced since the great depression.

Yes, the world’s problems are large and complex. Solutions will require people with diverse backgrounds to address them. I am proud that we have a diverse graduating class prepared for global leadership. Our 2012 graduates have the intellectual breadth of our seven schools; have different cultural, racial and religious backgrounds; and come from all parts of America and the world.

While at Washington University, you, our students, are part of a special community that becomes your home during your degree program. Enriched with your education in this diverse community, you now have the ability to make our world a better place for all. As the educated elite, you are the future leaders of society. Wherever you go from here, you will always be linked to the Washington University community. You now join more than 120,000 alumni around the world who are leading our society.

As new graduates, you obtain more education, pursue a public service commitment, or begin your professional career. Whatever you pursue, you will have the opportunity to apply what you have learned and to continue to be innovative.

Some among you may become entrepreneurs and build new enterprises. The impact from innovation and entrepreneurship can be profound, both in financial terms and in effecting positive social change. To illustrate, today is Facebook’s first day of public trading and is one of the world’s most valuable companies. Founder Mark Zuckerberg, age 28, is a multibillionaire, and significantly, Facebook has spawned an entirely new way to engage with other people. More than 900 million people are on Facebook!

Blockbuster developments like Facebook are rare, but it is often difficult to foretell the consequences of a new development. Who could have ever imagined the rapid development of Facebook?

In science, there are many examples where enormous practical impact comes years after a major discovery. For example, the Class of 1962 may recall that Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins won the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for the elucidation of the structure of DNA.

Today, 50 years later, our School of Medicine has pioneered the ability to rapidly and inexpensively sequence the DNA of the complete human genome. These studies are defining the best approaches to treating cancer. From this technological success our Departments of Genetics and Pathology & Immunology have launched Genomic and Pathology Services, or GPS@WUSTL, providing services to physicians seeking the best approaches to treating cancer.

GPS@WUSTL stems from fundamental science and advances in technology, but the application to advance human health is an innovative and entrepreneurial initiative from talented people wanting to help others. Well-educated people like you can make a difference by applying new knowledge in creative ways.

Innovation and entrepreneurial undertakings are not unique to science and technology. Members of the class of 2012 reveal many examples of new enterprises stemming from creative thinking.

JD recipient Jessica Mayo and JD/MSW recipient Nicole Solawetz Cortes won $30,000 in the YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition. Their new venture is called the Migrant Immigrant and Community Action project. MICA, as it is called, combines legal representation, social services and community development to support immigrant communities. The MICA Project will keep families together, strengthen communities and stimulate the economy.

Another exciting development comes from the minds of talented athletes, Mike Burnstein of the Class of 2012 and Dave Spandorfer of the Class of 2011 from Arts & Sciences. Their venture called Janji also won an award in the YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition and involves selling running apparel featuring country-specific insignia.

Janji launched its products in 70 stores just two weeks ago, and the sales will benefit people in Haiti and Kenya. In Haiti, the proceeds will go to support the efforts of Meds & Food for Kids, another new venture founded by Dr. Patricia Wolff of the School of Medicine to overcome malnutrition.

Sales of Janji’s Kenya-associated products support KickStart, an organization providing water pumps in Kenya. The Janji slogan is “Wear Janji, fight the Global Food and Water Crisis: Run for Another.”

Another exciting initiative in our region is the Arch Grants program developed by St. Louisan Jerry Schlicter. Fifty thousand dollar outright grants are competitively awarded to entrepreneurs who will develop their business in the City of St. Louis. We can take pride that seven of the first 15 winners announced last week are students, alumni or faculty of Washington University!

These include Daniel J. Garcia, a graduate today of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and Michael J. Gidding, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master of engineering and an MBA from the Olin School. These two students are co-founders of Saturnis, LLC, working to commercialize a low-cost, thermochemical process to produce liquid transportation fuels from biomass sources that can be sustainably harvested in the Midwest.

Perhaps Saturnis will emerge as a major contributor to the production of renewable fuels, addressing one of the world’s greatest needs.

In just a few years, you might be the leader of a highly successful new enterprise. In 2006, alumni David Karandish and Chris Sims from engineering, and Tom Hillman from Arts & Sciences founded a highly successful company called headquartered right on the Loop!

Already with more than 150 employees, the company has hired more than 15 Washington University students as summer interns to fuel the growth of the company.

Or you might head a blockbuster enterprise like The Blessing Basket Project nurtured by the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies that was founded by St. Louisan Theresa Wilson. Thousands of women have been trained to weave beautiful baskets that are sold in the United States, bringing transformative economic benefit to their communities in Africa and South Asia.

Not every graduate will form a new enterprise, but all have the potential for innovative contributions that will make our world better. Future generations are depending on your success. You have all demonstrated that you can learn what others know and learn it well.

Many among you have already demonstrated that you can also be creative and generate new knowledge, art, music, designs, literature and poetry. With your education, your continuing ability to learn, and your creativity, you can be an innovator and make contributions.

At the dedication of Scott Rudolph Hall on May 4, keynote speaker Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” told our students in attendance “you can change the world.” I am confident that you can change the world, and I wish you every success as you begin your life beyond Washington University.

Congratulations to the Class of 2012!