More than 700 undergraduate and graduate students received degrees at Elmhurst College’s 141st Commencement on May 26.
Commencement speaker Rita Athas ’76, president of the public-private partnership World Business Chicago, spoke about the importance of flexibility in planning a career path. Citing John Lennon’s well-known lyric, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” she advised the Class of 2012 to embrace the unexpected. “Your challenge is not to construct a plan etched in concrete, but to arm yourself with the weapons needed to successfully navigate the maze that will be your life,” she said.
These “weapons” include knowledge, character and courage. Athas credited Elmhurst for giving her the ability “to develop insights and challenge assumptions,” which she advised should not end at graduation. Athas, who served as deputy chief of staff for external affairs under former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, described her previous boss as a model for continued learning. Diligently sending articles to staff members and taking notes, Daley showed a constant interest in the world around him. Continuing to seek knowledge, she said, provides the foundation for success. “You can’t be aware of endless possibilities if you don’t continue to investigate what’s out there.”
Athas cautioned graduates to make character a “non-negotiable in your life,” avoiding the temptation to take the easy or instantly gratifying route if it means hurting others. She also spoke of the need for courage “to face life head on,” saying that success depends on admitting fear and pushing through it.
But life, she noted, is not just about accomplishments. It is also about being grateful: “Don’t forget to stop, look around, take it all in, and say thank you.”
Senior of the Year Jacob Meding reinforced this theme when he asked his classmates to recognize the support they have received during their years at Elmhurst. “Many of us are here today because of scholarships,” he said. “And we have a responsibility to stay connected to this community and to give back.” He and Elmhurst College Alumni Association President Sara Born presented the senior class gift: a scholarship for $3,810.
In addition to the 617 baccalaureate degrees, 93 master’s degrees and nine Elmhurst Learning and Success Academy certificates, the College awarded two honorary doctorates at the ceremony. Commencement speaker Athas, also a Great Lakes Cities Initiative commissioner and vice president of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, received an honorary doctor of laws degree. Rev. John M. Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago and editor and publisher of The Christian Century, received an honorary doctor of divinity degree.
Elmhurst President Alan S. Ray reflected on his first year at the College in 2008, referring to himself as a member of the class of 2012. “It was my first go at being president—a job that, like yours, did not come with an instruction manual,” he said. “Over the past four years, we’ve all learned the ropes, been instructed, given service, enjoyed the beauty of this campus and the fellowship of new friends, and yes, let’s be honest, we’d have liked a ‘do-over’ or two, or three, along the way. But with mistakes and achievements behind us, it is time to commence.”
President Ray encouraged graduates to celebrate while also recognizing the breadth of opportunities available. “Enjoy this wonderful diving-board moment,” he said.
As Athas charged in her address: “To lead a full life and embrace its full possibilities, jump off the cliff, dive into the water, and let go of the secure and comfortable.”