Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton’s 2014 Message to Washington University’s Graduates

Chancellor Mark Wrighton addressing the 2014 graduates

‘Your achievements here are impressive,’ Wrighton tells the class of 2014

Congratulations to our newest alumni, the Class of 2014! 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 your very generous class gift for scholarships for future students. About 65 percent of the graduating seniors have already 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 $240 million to support student financial aid needs and to reduce student debt. Our goal is to ensure that the Washington University experience is accessible and affordable.

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 about the same rate as 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 wee, our women’s and men’s tennis teams are in the NCAA quarterfinals. Successes in fall, winter and spring sports stem from great leadership, and I would like to salute our director of athletics, John Schael, who will be concluding his 36-year tenure in this role. Please join me in thanking John Schael for his remarkable leadership of Washington University Athletics.

Speaking of long and distinguished leadership, I wish to acknowledge the great contributions of Professor Susan Deusinger, who is retiring after 36 years on our faculty and the last 24 years as director of our world-class Program in Physical Therapy. Please join me in thanking Susie for building our Program in Physical Therapy.

Members of our Class of 2014 now begin a new phase of their lives. We do not know for sure what our world will be like in 2064, 50 years from now. But we do know that there will be challenges and opportunities along the way to which our new graduates will respond, just as members of our Class of 1964 have done in the 50 years since their graduation. We celebrate our 50-year reunion class and their achievements.

Let’s look back to 1964 to understand life in America at that time. In the world of entertainment, the Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964, their first live performance on American television with an estimated 73 million viewers. By early April, the Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Top 40 singles in America with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.” The musical “Hello, Dolly!” opened in New York and won a Tony Award. ” Mary Poppins,” starring Julie Andrews, and “My Fair Lady,” starring Rex Harrison, were new movies released in 1964, and Andrews and Harrison won Oscars as Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively, with “My Fair Lady” winning Best Picture.

In the fall of 1964, the World Series was won by the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Yankees in a seven-game series. Pitcher Bob Gibson was the Most Valuable Player. The Cardinals’ manager was Johnny Keane, who resigned after the series. Johnny Keane succeeded St. Louisan Yogi Berra, who was fired as the Yankees manager after the Series loss to the Cardinals. St. Louisans know how exciting it is to be in the World Series and to win! We thank Tony La Russa for his many years of masterful leadership of the St. Louis Cardinals.

1964 was a year of significance in American history. In August, U.S. Navy destroyers were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the president broad war powers to deal with North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. forces. The Vietnam War dominated U.S. politics and society for the ensuing decade and beyond, and even today, the wounds of Vietnam are not fully healed.

Early in 1964, President Johnson gave his first State of the Union Address and declared a different war — a “War on Poverty.” In August of 1964 the president signed legislation he championed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, abolishing racial segregation in the U.S. In October, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent resistance to end racial discrimination in the U.S.

Unfortunately, much of the progress hoped for in overcoming poverty and ending prejudice has not been realized. Our own Professor Mark Rank, of the Brown School of Social Work, has found that an uncomfortably large fraction of Americans will experience poverty in their lifetime. Growing income inequality has created additional tensions in society, both in the U.S. and in other countries.

Civil rights legislation, as important as that is, has not ended discrimination. Even on our own campus, we have had unfortunate experiences that prevent us from realizing the benefits of the diversity of this community. Each year at the Academic Convocation for first-year undergraduate 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 2018 this fall.

But we must work harder, more creatively, and more collaboratively to fulfill our aspiration of realizing the benefits to all of us by having a truly inclusive and diverse community. Some important steps have been taken: we have launched the Mosaic Project; we have resolved to strengthen socioeconomic diversity; and we have founded a Center for Diversity and Inclusion, to be led by LaTanya Buck. Realization of our hopes for the future will require sustained effort, in part, because our expectations for this community must be transferred to each successive generation of students.

I am optimistic about the future, because our new graduates are so inspiring. Our new graduates have performed and supported theater, music and dance, and you have enhanced our cultural understanding through Black Anthology, Carnaval, Diwali, the Pow Wow and the Lunar New Year Festival. Many have been involved in research and other creative work that will enhance the quality of life for all of us.

Indeed, our new graduates have already done much to advance Washington University, and they have contributed to the well-being of others through public service commitments of significance in our region, in the nation and around the world. For example, graduating senior Charlotte Jeffries, in Arts & Sciences, and junior Paras Vora, in Engineering, co-chaired this year’s Relay for Life, a program to support the fight against cancer.

At the opening ceremony, Professor Bob Hansman, of the Fox School, told his story about his heroic battle with cancer, inspiring all who heard him. Professor Hansman himself has drawn students into the program he founded called City Faces, a program to provide art lessons to young people living in public housing in St. Louis. This year’s Mr. Wash. U. contest to raise money for City Faces was won by graduate Jordan Gamble, the second woman in a row to become Mr. Wash. U.!

Our graduate and professional students make up about one-half of our student body. Like the undergraduates, they are also deeply engaged in contributing to making our world better. An exemplary program is the Young Scientist Program, started in 1991 by two MD/PhD students. The program is designed to attract high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds into scientific careers, and for more than 20 years the program has a achieved a remarkable level of success.

Our students are also innovators and entrepreneurs, contributing to the development of new enterprises. Especially exciting programs include student-initiated and student-led programs like IDEA Labs, a bioengineering design incubator bringing students together from across the university to solve problems in health care; the BioEntrepreneurship Core, a multidisciplinary group for graduate and professional students interested in biotechnology-based entrepreneurship; and the new not-for-profit, BALSA Group, which is the Biotechnology and Life Sciences Advising Group. These efforts will clearly spawn new approaches to advancing human health while also contributing to a stronger economy.

Our new graduates of 2014 will be a part of a generation that faces important global challenges, and it will be important that progress be made on many fronts. We aspire to prepare the leaders in society. They are in our midst this morning. Right in front of me. They are ready, well-educated, and deeply committed to making the world more secure, more prosperous, more just, more healthy, more sustainable, more beautiful and more enriching to humankind.

Five members of the Class of 2014 have prepared for special leadership roles: these women and men will serve as commissioned Second Lieutenants in the United States Army and have been a part of our ROTC program. National security is vital to preserving our personal freedoms, essential to economic prosperity, and contributes to global stability.

Serving as a commissioned officer represents an important commitment that benefits all of us. Let’s all thank Lukas Bundonis, Claire Henkel, Molly Sevcik, Andrew Zahn and Benjamin Rader for dedicating the next phase of their lives to this important responsibility.

In this era we are living by the phrase “leading together.” Our mission is to prepare the next generation of leaders, advance human health, inspire innovation and entrepreneurship, and enhance the quality of life. Class of 2014, you are leaders, you are advancing human health, you are innovators and entrepreneurs, and you are enhancing the quality of life. I declare: Mission accomplished!

Congratulations to the Class of 2014!