Chancellor Wrighton’s message to the graduates

‘We are depending on you’ Wrighton tells the class of 2013

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton leaves Brookings Quadrangle after delivering his message to the class of 2013 at WUSTL’ 152nd Commencement May 17. (Credit: JOE ANGELES)

Congratulations to our newest alumni, the Class of 2013! 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.

Graduates, your achievements here are impressive, but you have not realized success on your own. You have been supported by parents and other family members, by friends, and by Washington University faculty, staff and other students. And many among you have been supported by generous donors who provided scholarship gifts. Graduates, would you join me in thanking those who have supported you in realizing your success here?

Graduating seniors, thank you for teaching me the Harlem Shake! Your efforts have led to a very generous class gift for scholarships for future students. More than 72% of the graduating seniors have contributed to the class gift. Enhancing our financial aid programs is a key goal of our current fundraising effort: Leading Together, the Campaign for Washington University. This Campaign has already resulted in more than $200 million to support student financial aid needs and to reduce student debt. Our goal is to ensure that the Washington University experience remains accessible and affordable to all talented students who are admitted.

We have had fun and excitement in athletics. Thanks to outstanding athletes and excellent coaching, Washington University is ranked among the top Division III NCAA programs in the nation. Our athletes graduate at a higher rate than the class as a whole, have similar grade point averages, and distribute themselves among majors similar to the entire class.

And by the way, our teams win! Our women’s golf team is competing for a national championship. Next week our women’s and men’s tennis teams are in the NCAA quarterfinals next week. Successes in fall, winter and spring sports included winning UAA championships and competing in NCAA playoffs.

You have performed and supported theatre, 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.

Our Class of 2013 now begins a new phase of their lives. It is hard to appreciate the nature of the world in 2063, 50 years from now. But we do know that there will be challenges and opportunities to which our alumni will respond, just as our Class of 1963 has done in the 50 years since their graduation.

We celebrate our 50-year reunion class and their achievements. Let’s look back to 1963 to understand life in America at that time. Median family income with a head of family having four or more years of college was only about $9,700, but tuition at Washington University for the 62-63 year was only $1,100. Lawrence of Arabia was named Best Picture at the Academy Awards ceremony; the long-running soap opera General Hospital had its debut; the first James Bond film, Dr. No, premiered in the US; the Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me. Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. In medicine, the first successful liver transplant was done by Dr. Thomas Starl at the University of Colorado, and Dr. James Hardy performed the first lung transplant. Surely, 1963 was a year with much accomplishment and promise.

But 1963 was a time of challenge in America. Of course, time stopped in America on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The young, vigorous, eloquent and inspiring 35th president of the United States had only completed a little over 1,000 days in office, but he set our country on an excellent course in his brief presidency, especially in the area of civil rights. 1963 was a year of great racial strife in America. It was early in 1963 that George Wallace was inaugurated as Governor of Alabama proclaiming, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy broadcast his historic Civil Rights Address in which he promised a Civil Rights Bill and asked for “the kind of equality of treatment that we would want for ourselves.” The very next day civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered. On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial before about 200,000 people. This profound and inspiring speech continues to change minds and hearts 50 years later.

As I speak today, we can say that we have made enormous progress in this country in assuring civil rights for all. President Barack Obama is in his second term as the first African American president. We have the talented and dynamic Cory Booker as the mayor of Newark. We see African Americans leading great corporations, and it is a source of pride that the largest African American-owned business, World Wide Technology with about $4 billion in revenue, is headquartered here in St. Louis and led by David Steward.

We also enjoy the most successful African American newspaper, the St. Louis American, led by Dr. Donald Suggs. Our alumnus, Ronald Himes, the Henry Hampton Artist-in-Residence, founded and leads the most important African American theatre, the St. Louis Black Rep. Martin Mathews recognized here today with an honorary doctorate has developed a nationally celebrated program to support success of African American youth. Washington University and other colleges and universities have embraced inclusiveness and diversity as a top priority goal, and we can claim progress.

However, events and ensuing discussions this spring at Washington University reveal that we have not made the full progress we aspire to achieve, and we must redouble our efforts. Each year at the Academic Convocation for first year students I have emphasized that “there is no room for racism, discrimination or hatred on this campus.” Those words are important and they will be repeated for the Class of 2017 this fall, but we must work harder, more creatively, and more collaboratively to bring reality to our aspirations and to realize the benefits to all of us that stem from a truly inclusive and diverse community.

Addressing our challenges and responding well to new opportunities requires leadership. I am very pleased to recognize Dr. Edward S. Macias who concludes a quarter century as our chief academic officer. In recent years he has reinvigorated our efforts to strengthen the inclusiveness and diversity of our faculty. Please join me in thanking Dr. Macias for his years of leadership in strengthening our academic enterprise. Ed, please stand.

Our distinguished alumni, including those from the Class of 1963, those younger and those older, reveal that we have a strong record of preparing leaders. Every school can claim many distinguished alumni who are leaders. Here are examples: from Law, the Honorable Richard Teitleman, Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court; from Social Work, Dianne Harrison, President of California State University in Northridge; from Engineering, Don Jubel, Trustee of WU and CEO of Spartan Light Metal Products; from Arts & Sciences, former US Senator Jim Talent and Barbara Thomas, WU Trustee and CFO of HBO Sports; from Medicine, Dr. Edwin Krebs, Nobel prize in Medicine in 1992; from Business, Jim Weddle, Managing Partner of Edward Jones; and from the Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Soo Chan leader of SCDA Architects in Singapore and Cynthia Weese, distinguished architect and former Dean of Architecture here at Washington University, and Judy Pfaff, MacArthur prize-winning artist. Each school has great students who become great alumni.

Looking ahead, we have prepared our new alumni to be leaders in society. In saying we prepare leaders, we do not mean that we are preparing only presidents and CEO’s, as important as those are. We mean that we are preparing leaders in the broadest sense. This would include civic leaders, family leaders, business leaders, Nobel and Pritzker prizewinners, leading artists, designers, physicians, writers, social scientists, scientists, humanists, performers, engineers, lawyers, and social workers. In short, everyone educated at Washington University has the potential to become a leader in their chosen area.

The bachelor’s degree recipients here have benefited from the leadership of the late James E. McLeod, former Vice Chancellor for Students and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Jim, an African American, grew up in Alabama in the 50’s and 60’s and succeeded in that most challenging time. In his leadership role at Washington University he encouraged all students to cultivate habits of achievement.

This past year his colleagues, former students, and friends prepared a short book documenting the McLeod leadership legacy from the Ervin Scholars Program. The book is entitled Habits of Achievement — Lessons for Life Well-lived. This book is available to you and future generations. If you are interested, you can obtain a copy at the bookstore today.

Jim’s leadership style is one we treasure. We call it McLeod’s Way. We celebrated “McLeod’s Way” at the beginning of this academic year. “Caring and sensitive, quiet and dedicated, trusted friend and advisor, Jim McLeod was a wise, creative, and visionary leader whose special way, McLeod’s Way, continues to inspire all who join the Washington University community.” Jim McLeod encouraged the habits of achievement that will benefit all of us.

A very large fraction of our new graduates have already demonstrated leadership in making our world a better place. You have been involved in very significant service activities coordinated by the Gephardt Institute, Campus Y, and religious and Greek organizations. Many graduates have been involved in special programs like the Clinton Global Initiative University, Service First, Relay for Life, Dance Marathon, and Mr. WashU. This year’s winner of the Mr. WashU contest and fundraising program for City Faces was a Ms: Class of 2013 graduate, Ms. Mamatha Challa! In these and many other public service activities students have been creators and leaders in supporting our community.

I am confident that every new graduate has the potential for leadership. You will address effectively the world’s challenges and seize the most exciting opportunities. Indeed, we are depending on you! You have developed habits of achievement. You are already tomorrow’s leaders. Thank you for making Washington University stronger, and we will follow your leadership contributions with great interest.

Congratulations to the Class of 2013!