Westminster President Dr. Fletch Lamkin had the privilege of delivering the commencement address to the Class of 2018. For those who were not in attendance, here are his remarks (watch the address here):
Members of the Graduating Class of 2018, Parents, Staff, Faculty, Trustees, Friends of Westminster, and Honored Guests:
The rule of thumb is that the sequel to a movie is never as good as the original. Cases in point: Jaws 2, Grease 2, Matrix 2, and Dirty Dancing Havana Nights.
However, the same cannot be said of college presidencies. In fact, to put a new twist on an old song, I would say: “Westminster is lovelier the second time around.” Like these graduates, I’m older, I’m wiser, and I’m more in love with Westminster than the day I first saw the Columns.
I am honored to be back.
I am not only pleased by all the wonderful things we have been able to accomplish in just seven short months, but also by all the exciting progress we have planned on the horizon to make Westminster a premiere leader in higher education.
The Westminster Movement is no exaggeration. We are moving fast, and we are dreaming big. And I can’t wait for all these new graduates to come back for their first Alumni Weekend next year to see what advances we have made.
I have always thought we should come up with a new word for this ceremony. “Commencement” comes from 13th century Old French for “a beginning or start.”
In truth, that beginning or start comes with our first breath, and every other thought, sight, sound, taste, and smell from that point forward prepares us for the next one.
You, graduates, will not be beginning your life when you leave here today diploma in hand. Life will look different and be different because you have moved on to a new stage.
But the preparation you have received here from the Westminster community and before that, from your family, your church, your school, and your hometown prepared you to move into that new stage…whether it be a career, the service, graduate and professional school, or making a home.
As we approach the moment when you receive your diplomas and certificates for your accomplishments, you have a rare moment in your lives where you can look back at your accomplishments and, more importantly, look ahead to what might lie ahead in your future.
As you think about the life you want to lead, I would like to suggest to you a triangle and some glue, which together can help you lead a happy and fulfilling life.
From your knowledge of geometry, you know that a triangle is the strongest and most stable of all shapes. So think of the triangle I am about to describe to you as your indestructible foundation for happiness and fulfillment – your secret to living well.
Hopefully, the liberal arts education you received at Westminster has gone a long way in helping you to build your triangle.
At one leg of that triangle is boldness. I hope in the face of all we offer in the way of classes and campus life at Westminster, you have dared to be bold, and taken a chance on failing. Because we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes.
Being a part of a small intellectual community like Westminster allows you that luxury—the luxury of getting a taste of all kinds of academic and campus experiences, if you are adventurous enough to explore them.
Many of you came here without knowing what path you wanted to take after college. Yet our faculty, staff, and alumni were all united in providing the focus and clarity you needed to take ownership of your future.
If you were involved in the transformational process Westminster offered, you have found the power in your purpose. You have received the preparation and the confidence to face whatever life throws at you.
Most of you will change careers at least three times in your lifetime. And the wide range of knowledge you received in this liberal arts education has prepared you to be successful every time.
So take risks—not crazy, irrational risks, but the kind of risks that allow you to reach for the stars—to attain your dreams.
Those kinds of risks open up new opportunities. They fuel our creativity and passion. They bring positive change.
So be bold and courageous. Take on challenges and have no fear of failure, as growth cannot occur without challenge.
At another leg of the triangle is the desire to serve others. One of the core principles of our mission here at Westminster is service-learning.
Those of you who mentored young students, who gave blood, who participated in food drives, you know the satisfaction that brings. Those of you who worked throughout our community for Into the Streets, who volunteered in the local Soup Kitchen, or raised money for a charitable cause, you know the self-fulfillment you received.
Your success and happiness is, and will always be, inexorably tied to the success and happiness of others… your family, your co-workers, your friends, and people in your community.
The third leg of the triangle is passion.
Have a passion for what you do. You’ve had the privilege of being a part of an academic community here at Westminster comprised of passionate people; passionate about their subject matter, research, and teaching; passionate about their work; passionate about Westminster’s rich history and traditions.
Our most important wish is that you leave here with a passion for lifelong learning. For only when we keep learning, do we keep growing.
No one at Westminster has ever told you to “settle” for anything but the best. Seek excellence and never settle for mediocrity.
And the glue that holds this triangle together is your set of values. When you first came to Westminster, most of you were left to make your own personal choices for the first time in your life. That is why gaining a college education in a close-knit academic environment like Westminster is so important.
You interacted with teachers, staff members, alumni, and counselors who did not just care about your getting an education. They cared about you. They cared about the kind of men and women you would become. They cared about the choices you made. And when you stumbled, they were there to pick you up. And when you succeeded, they were there to cheer you on.
I could give you a hundred definitions of character, but ultimately it all boils down to one basic sentence: doing what’s right when no one is looking.
That’s the kind of character Westminster builds. That’s the kind of character that has made Westminster a place where generation after generation of leaders have learned and generation after generation of world leaders have wanted to visit.
So when you leave us: please continue to identify who you are and always be yourself. And that means being unflinchingly true to your values. Westminster values.
Be bold, help others, be passionate, and be yourself.
This is your foundation for a happy and fulfilling life.
All too often, people are wrapped up in making excuses for why they can’t accomplish a goal, rather than overcoming the obstacles in their path.
Back in 1945, the world was besieged by World War II. People in this country had no guarantee that we would prevail. The world was in turmoil, and the horrors of war were dashing the hopes and dreams of everyone.
That year, the musical “Carousel” was created by Rogers and Hammerstein and performed on Broadway. From that musical and out of the ashes of a war-torn nation came one of the most inspirational songs ever written, entitled “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
After so many dark days, America yearned for an uplifting message, and one month before Nazi Germany’s surrender, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein gave it to them with this song of survival against any odds.
While many songs in American musicals are specific to a moment in stage time, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has taken on a life of its own. Its stirring message will never be bound by one situation or one generation. Its feelings are as universal as life itself. Just two minutes long, this show-stopping piece has been performed by thousands and inspired millions. It has become known as an “American Anthem.”
Recently, over 175,00 fans from rivaling sides literally rocked a soccer stadium as they raised their voices in a lusty rendition of this song, commemorating a tragedy that had taken place ten years earlier.
While I’m certainly not going to sing it for you, the words go like this:
“When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone. “
As the writer of those lyrics, Oscar Hammerstein said: “I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it.”
And with this song, he captured the hopes of a nation.
As you leave this auditorium today, you carry our hopes and blessings with you.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, the lessons, the love, and the support of Westminster are with you as well.
Graduates, for you to have succeeded in your quest for a degree, you’ve had to overcome many obstacles and challenges. You could not have succeeded without having hope in your heart.
My urging to you is to be bold, set lofty goals, dream big and be fearless in your quest to achieve your dreams. It is our expectation, hope, and prayer that you will believe in yourselves, give as much as you have been given, and never give up. But, above all, keep hope in your heart, and Walk On.
Follow that advice, and I guarantee that you will never walk alone, and your lives will be special.