Faculty Commencement Speech by Dave Wooten 2015

If you were not able to make it to graduation or you want to read the speech by Dave Wooten, here it is!

WCC 2015 Commencement Speech – “What Can I Tell You?”

Thank you Dr. Bellanca, Trustees, Faculty, Family and Friends, Honored Guests, and Graduates.

Well, I have good news and bad news graduates. For those of you who have emailed me recently wondering if there are any more opportunities for extra credit, the answer is sadly no. The good news… you are graduating today so you don’t need it!

What can I tell you? You’ve already figured some things out or you wouldn’t be here today. So what can I tell you? Look at the person sitting next to you. What can I tell you; I can tell you for certain that their journey to that seat was different from yours. I can tell you that they struggled just like you; that they had successes that motivated and inspired them just like you; and that they had failures that caused them to doubt their convictions and their abilities; just like you. A friend and colleague has a saying on the side of her office door; it reads “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” What can I tell you…I can tell you that your journey is uniquely yours and it is forever now a part of your story and your success.

What can I tell you? I can tell you that you have succeeded in a time of unprecedented change in how higher education is approached and delivered. Online courses, virtual lectures, eBooks, social media, electronic communication and instantaneous information. I recall as a student going to the library to use the Dewey Decimal System to complete a book report. If you don’t know what that is; you can Google it on your smartphone later and then Tweet about it, which I recently learned has nothing to do with the acoustic communication of birds. This is a time of academic evolution. And a time when being a college graduate means something different than what it did 20 years ago. Tuition has increased over 600% since the 1980’s, 70% of students take on some form of college debt, and many jobs today, even at entry-level, require a degree or certificate.

We hear the question being constantly asked … is college worth it, is it a good investment? Was my time and money well spent? Well I can tell you, the answer is unequivocally… YES! Don’t worry, don’t worry (students, parents, check books), your time and money was well spent. But what an interesting question… was college a good investment? In academics today, we increasingly see a “business model” approach to our institutions. Recently at Texas A&M University, a job description for a full-time faculty position read “needs to have excellent customer service skills.” Has college become a business? Are you as students, merely customers? We’ll let me ask you… do you feel right now, here, today, the same way you felt when you made your last big purchase? Or is this something more, does today feel like something more? I imagine it does, I imagine this moment, today, feels like something much more, and do you know why…because college is NOT a business and you are NOT just a customer. Maybe in a café on campus or in the bookstore, maybe in a registration office, but not in the classroom. What you feel right now graduates; the pride, the feeling that you have what it takes to overcome challenges that test and define your character, in the classroom and in life… that feeling only comes from an accomplishment, and not from a purchase. Besides, in business they say “the customer is always right”…and we, the faculty, have read and graded many of your essays, so…

Education is more than a purchase, it’s a cooperative building effort between you and your own self-doubt, between you and your family and friends that supported you, it’s a cooperative effort between you and a group of instructors that are the most dedicated and impassioned teachers I have ever had the honor of working with! How many of you have had a class, an experience, an instructor here at WCC that opened your eyes, inspired you, transformed you, and changed the very way you see the world and yourself? That is something that cannot be distilled down to a consumable product, to an enrollment statistic or a profit-margin. That is forever yours, that will never expire and that is why you will forever be a graduate of WCC! And I applaud those at WCC who work hard to keep our tuition low and our focus on education high. “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” Benjamin Franklin. What can I tell you? I can tell you that at the age of seven my father was mowing the yard and caught a Garter Snake. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen; my path was set and I said “I want to become an animal scientist” and I’ve never stopped. Biology and Science have been my passion and guided me to my own successes and has brought me to stand before you here today; a great honor and privilege indeed. However, there is more to life than science and math.

Today we here more and more about STEM initiatives (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The state of Michigan has now changed its college transfer agreements to require more of these types of classes, at the sacrifice of courses in the Arts and Humanities. What can I tell you? As a biologist and a scientist, I tell you I think this is the wrong path. Subjects like art and music, poetry and language; these classes bring parts of you to life that would otherwise remain dormant. They make you more than what you are now, and can enrich the very way you see your life and the mosaic of the world around you. It was a Mythology class in college that helped me understand symbolism and history, it was an Art class that taught me how to illustrate nature and see it in an entirely new perspective, and it was a Poetry class that taught me the strength of words and how to eventually express my feelings to a very intelligent and beautiful Spanish instructor here at WCC, and she is now my wife! Art and Music and Literature may not save the world, but they help us understand what our world is worth and why it is worth saving.

What can I tell you? I can tell you this is only the beginning. There is more for you beyond those doors. And I want you to be more, to become more than what that piece of paper says you can be. Be open to change, because it is NOT, I assure you, going to go the way you have planned. Charles Darwin said “It is not the most intelligent nor the strongest species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change.” What can I tell you? I can tell you good bye and good journey, I can tell you good job and good luck. The question now becomes, graduates of WCC, “What will you tell us?” Thank you.

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