Commencement 2024 Address on May 20th, 2024. Remarks as prepared.

Good morning, Class of 2024! You made it!

It is wonderful to be with you today on this most exciting occasion – and I want to extend a special welcome to your friends, your families, and all of our guests to Wake Forest University. We are so glad you’re here. I also want to thank our distinguished faculty, university leaders, Trustees and honored speakers. Thank you for being here today to celebrate these graduates.

And I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are so excited to celebrate this special class with a live, in-person commencement! You deserve this morning, this day, and I encourage you to cherish every moment of it. It is not by accident, nor coincidence, that we choose to celebrate our commencement each year here, on Hearn Plaza. This beautiful green space is the heart of our Reynolda Campus – the center of our University.

For many of you, it may have been this quad, this view, that stirred something inside of you – that told you, when you were a student in high school or a visiting transfer student – that you had arrived. That you were home. And while this quad has called out to generations of Wake Foresters since we arrived in Winston-Salem in 1956, I would venture to say that it may be of special significance to you, the Class of 2024 – who arrived at Wake Forest in August of 2020.

When you arrived, life on this campus was anything but normal. And yet… Like students who came before you, this space where you now sit became a hub of interaction – a place for chance encounters with new friends and with classmates you may have only seen on a screen, but not yet in person; a place for picnics, for laps around the bricks with your faculty and trusted mentors; a place to celebrate victories by watching toilet paper waft gently from the branches of these trees; a space to just breathe, to admire the beauty of this campus, and to pause amid the rush of college life.

And here, you discovered life at Wake Forest. With a backdrop of maples and magnolias, of rolling green lawns, beautiful brick buildings, and the chimes of Wait Chapel ringing out, you likely learned the lesson of so many who came before you: that it is the people who make Wake Forest so special.

You learned this through the friends you have made, and now think of as family; the teachers – in both 2D on your laptop and in the 3D of real life – who showed how much they cared about you and wanted you to succeed, and the many staff who shaped your experiences outside of the classroom; through Milkshake Mondays and Wake Up Wednesdays with Dr. Shea, even on those days it was really hard to wake up…

There are so many more examples I could share that demonstrate how the people of Wake Forest shape how we all experience this place. And do not forget, you have each shaped the Wake Forest experience for others, too. Your class will always be distinctive in our University’s history. Yes, you began your college experience during a global crisis, but more importantly — you persevered and found innovative ways to navigate through it.

I have had the great fortune of hearing from – and learning from – so many members of the Class of 2024, and your reflections on your time at Wake Forest. And what I heard from you was that you will graduate today from Wake Forest with a set of superpowers, earned through your experiences.

First, you know how to respond and to adapt. And not only because of the pandemic! You were here for an epic ice storm, the Weaver Fertilizer Plant fire, and who could forget the rabid raccoons! The ability to effectively adapt in any situation will serve you well, no matter where your career takes you. As one of you said to me recently, “This class of seniors has bounced back, again and again. We are not dwelling on these things, we are learning from them and we are moving forward.”

Second, you know the importance of relationships. You, Class of 2024, have sought more opportunities for connection with one another, not less, and have built a web of connections here that will carry you far into your futures. Another senior summed this up to me in a very powerful way. He said: “We have this profound sense that nothing is really guaranteed, so we take nothing for granted.” All of us can learn from you in that regard.

And last, third, you know how to seek and find joy. This year, we saw record-breaking numbers of students returning to our campus traditions like Hit the Bricks, Lovefeast, and the President’s Ball. Your energy and enthusiasm for being in community, for having fun, and prioritizing these moments of joy, has created renewed energy for our campus – and set an incredible example to the classes who have followed you.

I have named just three of your super powers – your adaptability, your strong relationships and your ability to find joy – and I know you have so many more. I hope you will share them with the world. In your time here, I know that you have also stretched your intellect; asked really hard questions; and discovered passions and interests you never knew you had. And I have no doubt that you will take what you learned here and apply it in your lives and your careers.

Seventy-three years ago, then President of the United States Harry S. Truman spoke to a crowd of hopeful Wake Foresters right here where we are today, breaking ground on what would become this campus.

In a moment of such great hope and anticipation for those assembled, he invited them to set aside their fears and anxieties. He said: “When the fears of frightened men prevail, whether in a college or in a country, no progress is made… and little is accomplished for the betterment of the world. No institution and no nation can stand before the bar of history and justify itself on the ground that it never did any harm. The question that has to be answered before all mankind is, ‘What good did you do?’”

Graduates, you have heard me say it before – you are called to be catalysts for good in the world. For humanity – Pro Humanitate. And you are capable of doing so much good. Your Wake Forest education has equipped you to answer President Truman’s question – “What good did you do?” again and again – -wherever your path leads you. Be courageous. Be confident. You have what you need. Go and do good.

As you experience this very special day on this quad – at the heart of your University – know that Wake Forest will never leave you. You are a part of this place, and you always will be. So let’s enjoy this day together – with you, our unforgettable Class of 2024. Enjoy your graduation – you deserve it!


Categories: Speeches