“When you build something from scratch, you acquire a depth of understanding that no ‘professional,’ no management expert can match. There are few better ways to learn about yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, than building something from scratch. There is no better mirror.”
This observation recounting specific experiences – the building of a restaurant, and later, the creation of a political campaign – also served as a metaphor for the moment at hand. That moment was the 178the Commencement Ceremonies at Wesleyan University, on Sunday, May 23. The speaker, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ’74, M.A. ’80, shared with students insights about the often uneven path to success, that is neither planned nor anticipated.
Hickenlooper, who also received a Doctor of Laws degree, trained as a geologist but became the owner and operator of a chain of brew pubs, later selling them to run for mayor of Denver. He didn’t set out to do any of those things when he entered college. He wanted to be a writer, but then fell in love with geology. After losing a job as a geologist, he became intrigued with the idea of opening a brew pub in a dilapidated part of Denver’s downtown. His foray into politics occurred only because he thought the local political system had become so cynical.
“There’s one thing other commencement speakers forget when they advise everyone to follow their bliss,” Hickenlooper told the graduates. “Bliss often doesn’t start out as bliss; passion often doesn’t start out as passion. It’s more likely to begin as a quirk or nagging awareness, a nagging idea coming in from left field.”
Hickenlooper said acting on these ideas, no matter what field they take a person into is a form of entrepreneurship
“Entrepreneurship is all about innovation, re-invention, adaptation and perseverance,” he said, drawing a comparison with the special type of liberal arts education provided at Wesleyan.
“The entrepreneur usually starts in rebellion against some status quo. They prevail by creating a new circumstance which others have understand. Now this is part of the Wesleyan ethos: rebellion. But let’s not forget about critical thinking.”
Hickenlooper was one of four who received honorary doctorates at the ceremony: Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons; author and scholar Stanley Cavell; and scholar and Professor of Music Emeritus Richard Winslow ’40.
They were joined by their new classmates on Andrus Field: 706 students who received Bachelor of Arts degrees; 63 awarded a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree; one receiving a Certificate of Advanced Study; 36 who were granted Master of Arts degrees; and 10 bestowed with Doctor of Philosophy degrees.
Latasha Alcindor ’10, who delivered the Senior Speaker Address in the form of a poem, said she attended college for a “young single mother who saw me as her chance,” but the experience became so much more than just fulfilling a mother’s dream.
“I can never take for granted this privilege I was granted because Wesleyan, you have given me a new set of eyes,” she said.
She also exhorted her fellow graduates to seize this moment as a new beginning:
“These papers that you will receive do not mean we are finished. These jobs you will start do not mean we are finished. There is something that needs to be left, there is something open. The examination has just begun.”
In his welcoming remarks to the Class of 2010, President Michael S. Roth ’78 acknowledged the deaths of two students from the class of 2010, Chase Parr and Johanna Justin-Jinich, and the void their passing had left for the class and the institution.
“We are left only to imagine, to dream what their contributions to this class, to the world, might have been,” Roth said.
President Roth also saluted the graduates and the honorary degree recipients, and in his address to the graduates spoke of rejecting common themes and practices and finding one’s own way through innovation, creativity and the “rejection of conformity.”
“The rejection of conformity can mean creating an environment for learning that prizes inclusion, and celebrates achievement while not caving in to narrow professionalism,” he said. “The rejection of conformity: now there’s an idea that would generate enthusiastic assent from generations of Wesleyan graduates…Wes alumni have used their education to change the course of culture themselves lest the future be shaped by those for whom creativity and change, freedom and equality, diversity and tolerance, are much too threatening. Now we alumni are counting on you to join us in helping to shape our culture, so that it will not be shaped by forces of oppression and violence.”
During the ceremony, the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, associate professor of English, and Jeremy Zwelling, associate professor of religion.
Previous to the ceremony, Jonna Humphries ’10, Rebecca Lee ’10, and Satrio Wicaksono ’10 delivered the “Senior Voices” addresses at Memorial Chapel.
All Commencement speeches are online at: