Remarks as prepared

Thank you, Reverend Auman, for your thoughtful invocation and your commitment to our Wake Forest community. 

And to the deans, chairs and professors, and to the incredible staff gathered, thank you for joining us at the new student convocation.

Class of 2026 — Welcome! Welcome to Wake Forest University. 

This ceremony marks the formal beginning of your educational journey. You are joining a long lineage of students and educators dedicated to serving humanity through the pursuit and harnessing of knowledge. So while it is a time of incredible excitement and expectation, it is also important to acknowledge this milestone with a degree of quiet, thoughtful reflection.

Yesterday morning on the Quad, we celebrated your arrival with a little less quiet, shall we say, at our breakfast on the Quad. But I do want to repeat one thing I said to you yesterday: look around. 

This is your community.  

You come together — indeed we all do — as a beautiful confluence of people, with a range of different lived experiences and perspectives. Indeed, our strength is found in this diversity

As I have already said several times, though you barely know each other now, rest assured: within this chapel are people you will call friends and colleagues for the rest of your life. 

I also want you now to look at those seated behind me … professors, deans and chairs, counselors, advisors and support staff. We are all here for you. We are all committed to helping you focus your passions, develop your skills, and hone your talents. 

Most importantly, we are committed to ensuring that Wake Forest is a place where each of you can belong and thrive — let me further clearly say — each of you is valued and you belong here.

Yes, there will be times of uncertainty and frustration. This is true of any change or challenge or opportunity. All the new aspects of being a first-year student in college will take some time to get used to. 

You’re going to be stretched academically. You’re going to experiment with information and new ideas — sometimes with uncertainty or discomfort — and you’re going to work hard, juggling your time and efforts, and you will need to make choices about what you do, or do not do….. 

My message: We know you can do it. But be patient with yourself. 

It might take some time to get settled, but don’t worry. Remember, this time last year, I was also new on campus. I now proudly call Wake Forest home. Very soon, you will too. 

Another perspective I might offer for your first semester is taken from my academic background in biochemistry. 

I grew up in rural Iowa, and a combination of scholarships, Pell grants and part-time jobs made college affordable for me. College is also where I first discovered my passion for research in the laboratory.

And for several decades as a faculty member, I studied the inner workings of life on the cellular level. I’m proud of the papers I’ve published, the students and fellows I’ve mentored and how the discoveries in my lab laid the foundation for new medicines and treatments. 

But those accomplishments are all outcomes, not beginnings

When I think about this beginning time for you, I think about how at first glance under the microscope, everything in a cell appears chaotic. There are millions of molecules and chemical reactions going on every second and in every corner. 

But if you keep looking, studying, asking questions, inviting in different perspectives … eventually patterns and processes, rhythm and logic, become evident.

In a similar way, in the beginning, Wake Forest may feel a little chaotic and frenetic right now — but this is actually what thriving looks like up close and personal. I assure you that amidst all the newness, the excitement, the activity and revelry, you will find structure and rhythm, discovery and collaboration. 

This is in part because while each of us are forging our own pathway, we’re united by a common desire to be catalysts for good in society. I use those words — catalyst and pathway — very deliberately. 

To go back to my research, while cells are home to many different types of chemical reactions, it is the job of catalysts to accelerate and modulate those reactions. To put it as simply as possible, catalysts speed things up and lower the barriers to success. This is an apt metaphor for what you’re about to experience at Wake Forest. 

As students, you’ll experience many different types of catalysts on campus — a class, a club, a paper, an interaction with an advisor, counselor or professor, an assigned reading or guest lecture, a service project or study abroad experience, even a walk along one of our campus trails. 

And when you add the action of these catalysts together over the course of your time here, the result will be your individual pathway to discovery. 

At one end of this pathway to discovery is a new student — like yourself — just beginning. At the other end of the pathway is a graduating senior at commencement taking the step to be a young alumnus starting out in the world. Further on in your life’s pathway, there might be an established artist, business leader, tech innovator, or healthcare provider, giving back with skills and passions first honed here on campus. 

So again, I ask you to look around. 

Everyone here — your fellow students, your teachers, your advisors — is a partner in your individual pathway to discovery. This is what being a member of the Wake Forest community means. 

And in your own unique way, you will be a catalyst for others too. We are embarking upon these transformative processes together. 


What I’ve talked about so far is a perspective on the how and what of your educational journey. But what about the why? In closing, I want to give you a perspective on the why. 

I leave you today with one of my favorite quotes from one of our most beloved Wake Foresters, Professor Maya Angelou, a poet, actress, author and civil rights activist known around the world. Dr. Angelou taught at Wake Forest from 1982 until her passing in 2014. 

In her poem, A Brave and Startling Truth, she urges us to believe that we, “have the power to fashion for this earth a climate where every man and every woman can live freely without sanctimonious piety, without crippling fear.”

For me, this is a beautiful vision of our school motto — Pro Humanitate — in action. 

 It is why we support each other’s pathways to discovery. 

It is why we foster and enable thriving and belonging.

It is why we embrace education as not just a series of classes, projects and finals, but as a way to harness knowledge in the service of humanity. 

As you sign the honor code today, as you receive your pins, as you start your classes, focus your studies, discover your passions and hone your abilities, it is my sincere hope that you will do so with Dr. Angelou’s vision in mind, that vision of a world we can fashion where all live free of both sanctimonious piety and crippling fear. A world where all feel they belong and all thrive.

One thing you can be certain of, as you embark upon this adventure at Wake Forest, we can’t wait to see what you discover, and we will be with you on every step of your pathway.

Again, welcome Class of 2026!

Categories: Speeches