Ohio Wesleyan University

As commencement exercises are being conducted at institutions of higher education across the country, women’s voices are taking a prominent place in offering congratulations, advice and inspiration to the graduating classes of 2011. In a series of posts, Women’s Voices for Change is sharing excerpts from selected commencement addresses.




Ohio Wesleyan University

Mary E. King
Professor of peace and conflict studies at the United Nations-affiliated University for Peace
Ohio Wesleyan University
Delaware, Ohio
May 8, 2011

One secret to gratification in life is to choose something much larger than yourself in which to be involved, either full time or as a volunteer. Every Returned Peace Corps Volunteer I’ve met has told me that he or she gained more from their two years of service than they were able to give. Some fields and professions are highly fulfilling and enriching in a similar way. Over the years, teachers have said to me that they wished there was a civil rights movement that they could join, because they would like some form of activism. Don’t you realize, I respond, teaching is a form of activism!

Cast your eyes across the world stage. Women’s rights is becoming a central moral issue of the twenty-first century. Gender affects virtually all of human life. Over thirty years, the study of gender has emerged as a critical requirement for building peace. It is now widely understood that the socialization of men and women is crucial to the building of more peaceable societies.

The evidence is solid that the education and status of women stabilizes and uplifts the whole of societies—for men, children, and women. Uplift of women and their increased participation in public policy is now perceived as fundamental to economic growth, health status, reducing poverty, sustaining the environment, and consolidating democracy in societies long bowed down by authoritarianism and tyranny. The data are irrefutable.

Yet formidable social and cultural factors prevent policies and action based on scientific evidence of wide-ranging benefits for everyone from educating women and girls. Perhaps you can be instrumental in working on this. Both men and women are tackling these issues in Africa. Colleagues of mine in the University for Peace Africa Programme are leading the way. They never forget that approximately 1.5 billion women and girls in the world have no rights: they are sold into marriage, in forced marriages, surgically mutilated, and experience many forms of violence, some of it involving systematic trafficking.




Department of Homeland Security

Janet Napolitano
Secretary of homeland security
Emory University
May 9, 2011


I’ve seen major changes during my own lifetime. The parents in the audience will remember when there were only a few channels on TV – and you had to change the channel by hand. Now, if someone loses the remote control, it is a major crisis until it is found again. We prepared our term papers on typewriters. We used a slide rule. And we walked around with punch cards to program computers using Fortran. Our first cars were Ford Pintos. We wore bell bottoms and Nehru jackets. And our first cell phones looked like walkie-talkies.

I mention these things because today, we live in a world where change is a certainty – and where the pace of that change is growing ever faster. Past generations could not bank on the fact that the world would be all that different four, forty, or a hundred years in the future. But we can. This gives us greater opportunities, to be sure, but greater risks as well.

Your challenge as graduates will be figuring out how to take advantage of the dynamism of today’s world – and use your unique skills – to make it better.

To do this, you will have to maintain your equilibrium, your sense of self, in some topsy-turvy conditions. Just look at the four years since you were freshmen in 2007. Our economic landscape has changed dramatically, which makes your job searches much different from those of the seniors who graduated four years ago. We had a historic presidential election in which the participation of your generation was a major part of the story. And across the world we’ve seen major developments such as the rise of China and India, and the recent democratic movements in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain.

But apart from just noting change, it is also important for us to remember that the rate of change in our world fulfills a great role. It challenges us and empowers us to shape the world according to how we envision it. And it can open doors that our society has never even imaged.

Take Twitter, for instance. Twitter did not even exist until 2006, when the seniors graduating today were in high school. Now, it is ubiquitous. You’re able to Tweet during my speech because you have an app for Twitter on your smartphones. In 2006, we didn’t have an app for that – we didn’t have an app for much of anything.

Changes in social media and the opportunities they have created have touched us all – including the Department of Homeland Security. Today we are leveraging social media tools like FEMA’s mobile website to enable victims of disasters – including victims of the recent tornadoes here in Georgia, Alabama, and across the Southeast – to register for assistance from their smart phones.

All of you will face this challenge to seize the opportunity of change – even though all of you will go on to do very different things. For some of you, the next four years of change will mean moving very far away and doing things you’d never thought you’d do – such as waking up before 10 a.m.

My own career has taken me from law school and legal practice, to elected office, and today, to a massive government agency with more than 230,000 people. There’s no exact road map for that. But all along, I have had a strong interest in public service, and that has never waned. And I hope that all of you, no matter where your careers take you, will give thought to how your unique talents could help serve the common good.




Ralph Alswang, White House photographer

Jill Biden
Second lady of the United States and English professor
Salve Regina University
Newport, R.I.
May 15, 2011

As the poet William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  And I ask you today to keep that fire burning brightly as you leave the steps of McKillop Library.

I urge you to embrace that fire and do what you love, and just as important, inspire others to love that something else, too.

While the vast majority of you are not going to be teachers in a classroom next year—I believe that you can teach or mentor or inspire someone in your lives. In fact, I hope you do.

I have no doubt each one of you has the power to inspire a future generation of business leaders, artists, statesmen, and scientists, to pass on this gift of education to others, to light that fire anew, for so many more.

I recently received a letter from a former student of mine who said that her time in my classroom inspired her to become a teacher at a community college in North Carolina.  She wrote in her letter: “More than ever, I feel like I am changing lives.”

The truth is, you don’t have to be a teacher to feel that way.  You can change lives doing many things.  You have that potential, each and every one of you, doing whatever it is you do best.

It was the founder of this beautiful state, Roger Williams, who once said: “The greatest crime in the world is not developing your potential. When you do what you do best, you are helping not only yourself, but the world.”

You owe it to your professors, to your school.  You owe it to the families who are just dying to hug you right now, and to the friends all around you, itching to celebrate with you.  But most importantly, you owe it to yourself.  Keep the fire lit—and lit brightly-so others can follow the trails you blaze.




Other posts in the Collected Wisdom series:

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