Senior class president William Feng’s message to the Class of 2018

William Feng, senior class president, addressed fellow graduates of the Class of 2018 at Washington University's 157th Commencement May 18. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Grand Marshall Drobak, Chancellor Wrighton, Dr. Slaughter, Board of Trustees and distinguished guests: Thank you.

I stand before you today as a fellow classmate and student to reflect on our final moments as undergraduates of Washington University.

To parents, family, friends and loved ones, I thank you. I offer my thanks to all of you for supporting us, for encouraging us, and I truly thank you for all the steps you took to get us where we are today.

Thank you all for joining us as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2018.

I see a lot of beautiful umbrellas out in the audience today.

Now to us: As I reflect on our experience at Washington University, I would like to share when I visited my grandfather in China over winter break.

He had invited me to lunch. At the table, I sat myself with seven other people. As he introduced each one of them by name and age, he explained how he befriended these companions and kept in touch with them for over 60 years.

Sixty years? He’s 85 years old. He has known these people since his 20s.

Now, Class of 2018. I want you to ponder for a moment about those who are seated around you. Those classmates and colleagues gathered today.

Think of the relationships you will continue onward beyond this campus and after graduation. Do you remember how you met them? Do you remember why or when you met? I tell you now that it really doesn’t matter. We met our closest friends by random chance. Exactly like how my grandfather did.

By pure coincidence, your closest acquaintances were those who were randomly assigned to your freshman floor. It was chance encounter at those one or two clubs that you met your best friend in a peripheral interest you totally forgot about. It was that time when you sat alone in a dining hall and started a conversation with that one person who probably only wanted to eat in peace! I will tell you now: those friends you made by chance, who stuck with you through thick and thin, I am confident will be with you for the rest of your life.

These are our friends. These are our colleagues. This is our family and class for the rest of our life.

Like my grandfather’s companions, they will be here after life milestones, after marriage, after adulthood, after growing old together. He never finished high school and didn’t go to college. But he and his friends get to see his firstborn grandchild finish it right now!

Five to 10 years from now, you’re not going to remember that one time you regretted not studying enough for that third midterm in your second semester sophomore year of a class you totally don’t recall.

Well, to be honest with you, I worried about those things! But with time comes distance. I realized how little those aspects mean in the scheme of life.

Instead, you will cherish the memories and the feelings of those who stuck through the formative years at WashU!

Seriously! We’ve done some incredible things. I have seen people on this campus do things that others told them could never be done. Pursue ideas that people said flat-out no to. I’ve seen our colleagues create movements, found businesses, mobilize entire communities. Hey, I’ve even had my friend tell me she could get away with making graduation cords out of recycled T-shirts as a sustainable option for students not involved on campus.


Well guess what, I’m wearing one of them today.

I could go around for the next few minutes about all the changemakers of our class, but it boils down to this:

We came to college at a critical window of our nation and world’s history. We witnessed the injustice of Michael Brown. The unrest of our city and nation … divisions that were swept under the rug and then brought to light here by activists in our community.

We were in the hotspot of one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime. We hosted that debate. One that was, to be frank, pretty out of control. But, it was seriously so cool!

Our class has actively pushed this university towards positive change. We do this by talking to each other more. Leaning on one another and leading with empathy.

We have been faced, and will continue to be faced, by people who are say they are more powerful than you, who say they have more influence than you, who will constantly underestimate us. They are haters.

I stand before you now to say that we come from a community that doesn’t take that type of attitude!

You know what? Don’t let them rain down on our parade. Literally, don’t let it (the rainy weather) rain down on our parade!

This is going to be a bit impromptu. These gowns are beautiful and I’d love to see you all take down your umbrellas, take off your ponchos. And just for a brief moment, if you are comfortable being wet for 30 seconds, I’d love to see a sea of green. I want to see your gowns in plain sight at a moment like this. Take them off!


Who else gets anxious when someone asks you of your plans after graduation? I feel like I speak for a lot of us when I’ll admit … I am anxious.

But if we’ve learned anything from the speeches of the last few days, it’s that a lot of uncertainty is coming our way.

But in the face of this uncertainty, we don’t worry about it. We have and will continue to thrive in it!

As we move our tassels from right to left, we are not marking an end — but shifting our focus onto the change and movement we can undertake in the future.

Continue to strive off this campus with confidence!

I truly will miss this campus and the memories I have with many of you. And I’m not crying … the sky is.

On a final note: No matter the future paths you take, stay spontaneous! It’s those plans, ideas and actions that are the most fun and the most successful!

So, here’s to the future. To the incredible things we’ll do. Here’s to us, the Class of 2018.


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