They Did It! Class of 2014 Celebrates Commencement
- Chris Gardner
- Chris Gardner
- Chris Gardner
- Chris Gardner
- Chris Gardner
Chestertown, Md., May 17, 2014—The Washington College Class of 2014 celebrated Commencement and received diplomas on a gorgeous Saturday morning filled with pomp, ceremony and tradition. It was an event that began with a splendid processional led by bagpipes and drum, and ended with the festive release of maroon and black flutterfetti. In between, the Class and the families and friends who gathered with them on the Campus Lawn heard words of wisdom and reflection from President Mitchell B. Reiss, CEO-elect of AARP Jo Ann Jenkins, and Senior Class Speaker Obella M. Obbo.
President Reiss, who arrived at Washington College just six weeks before the graduates did back in 2010, recounted highlights of their four years together, starting with the day he helped many move into their dorm rooms. “We have all grown more confident together,” he said, “and we’ve grown to love this place and to value the people and traditions that are its heart and soul.”
President Reiss sparked one of the biggest response from the graduates when he referred to the men’s lacrosse team defeating Salisbury University in the 2013 War on the Shore game, and later when he mentioned the varsity teams still competing, post-commencement, for national championships—men’s lacrosse, women’s crew and the co-ed sailing team. He drew laughter when he reminded them that it was during their junior and senior years that, “You turned 21 and were finally able to attend Happy Hour at the Imperial and Team Tuesdays at the Blue Bird—even if Trisha had to check your ID twice.”
As the graduate chosen by his peers to speak for them, Obbo, a psychology major and creative writing minor from Frederick, Md., recalled the uncertainty and discomfort he felt his first couple of days on campus and how quickly they were replaced by friendships and a sense of belonging. As a tour guide for Admissions, he said, he tries to convey the Washington College experience to prospective students in snippets, stories and glimpses.
“I tell them that there is a day, usually in April, when all of the magnolias that line the Cater Walk are in bloom,” he said. “On that day, the sun shines and a gentle breeze sends a cascade of petals onto the bricks while you’re on your way to the Dining Hall or the Gibson Center for the Arts, and you will, without a doubt, know that you are in exactly the right place.
“I tell them that I wake up some Sunday mornings and walk to the docks at the boathouse with my friends to sit and have breakfast from Sam’s or Evergrain,” he continued. “I tell them that I once walked into Dr. Jim Siemen’s office completely broken, holding a failed test in my hand and the notion that I was a failure in my heart. And all of my frustration, all of my self-doubt, was met with a smile and a glass bottle of Coca Cola. He spoke some encouraging words about my future, and I spent an hour sitting on a couch learning everything I could about health psychology.”
“We assume that the norm is to go to college to become the one thing that we think we’re supposed to be,” Obbo said in his conclusion. “ Washington College is an institution where we are gifted with an incredible freedom, this independence, to make what we want of our education and our lives, while being helped by people who genuinely care about us.”
Jenkins, who now serves as chief operating officer and executive vice president of AARP and will step into the CEO position on September 1, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the College. In addressing the graduates, she acknowledged the apparent irony of a leader of an association dedicated to helping senior citizens being asked to speak to a class of seniors just beginning their life’s journey. “But it’s not really ironic at all,” she said. “Because if there is one thing we have learned at AARP over the years, it’s that if you want to have a good life when you’re older, you have to begin when you’re younger.”
She offered three wishes to the graduates, the first being that they live their lives with courage. “Follow your heart, not your fears,” she said. She also shared Plato’s definition of a good education as one that “leads you to hate the things that should be hated and love what should be loved. That, not only defines education, it defines moral courage,” she added.
Her second wish was that the graduates dedicate themselves to service. Quoting Maya Angelou’s challenge to “try to be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud,” she offered the founder of AARP, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, as an exemplar. Andrus was a retired teacher in 1947 when, seeing the need for other retired teachers like herself to have health insurance, she founded the organization that would become AARP. “Millions of older people have a more secure life today because one retired educator from California believed that older people should be able to buy health insurance,” she said.
Her third wish was that each graduate “pour your heart and soul into the true meaning of commencement” and “begin that journey to becoming the person you want to be.”
She addressed the likelihood that today’s graduates will live long lives. “That means you are also going to work for a really, really long time,” she said, “and you will have several different careers throughout your lifetime — not just different jobs, but different careers. Recognize that you may follow many different paths before you find the one that is right for you,” she said, quoting the Chinese proverb, “Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.”
“Live your life with courage, dedicate yourself to service and pour your heart and soul into the true meaning of commencement,” she said in summary. “Go forth from this beautiful campus and show us what you can do.”
Then, harking to an earlier observation that most members of the Class have a thirst for learning, a thirst for achieving, and a thirst for service, she encouraged them to, “Stay thirsty, my friends!”