SACS Commission President Belle Wheelan Addresses C-N Grads

Campus News | May 11, 2012

 

C-N President Randall O'Brien conferred some 270 degrees during Carson-Newman College's undergraduate commencement exercises this morning.

The Burke-Tarr Stadium ceremony included seven graduates honored with the President’s Academic Award, which denotes a college career 4.0 GPA. Honorees are: Jody M. Barker, BS in consumer services, Kingsport; Emily Bibb, BA in religion, Knoxville; Ah-Reum Han, BA in English, creative writing and cross-cultural sociology, The Gambia; Jenna Medley, BS in accounting and marketing, Pounding Mill, Virginia; Travis Pace, BS in biochemistry, Newport; Maggie Smith, BS in special education, Banner Elk, NC; and Hannah Williams, BA in art, graphic design and English – literature, Seymour. Barker and Bibb were each presented the W.D. Hudgins Leadership Award.

In her commencement remarks, Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges, told the graduates that they have a serious task set before them as they join America economic apparatus.

“The responsibility that sits on your shoulders, to ensure that these United States retain the position of power worldwide that we have always enjoyed, is a heavy one.” After pausing for effect, the educator said, “If you think you're tired now, just wait until you get into the real world.”

Wheelan told her audience that their challenges will include working with older people, who she called “my peers.” While some may work with older people as patients – “because we their bodies to work” -- there are also many "very experienced" workers with expertise the younger generation has yet to acquire. Ultimately, she said, "the economic downturn won't let us retire."

In her introduction of the “real world” to C-N’s newest alumni, Wheelan noted that some of the addressed might soon be supervising others her own age; “in which case we will both have to adjust to that turn of events,” she smiled. No matter, we will all have to work hard in order to retain the level of excellence and competitiveness we as a nation have enjoyed for many years.

Though they may have not yet considered it, the Commission president explained that the graduates’ contributions will transcend themselves and the immediate family, but also their communities and their society. “We need you. We need your skills; your critical thinking skills, your analytical skills, the skills in the area of your major, your people skills. Unlike the many years ago when I graduated, the competition today circles the globe. You are not just competing with the folks in a neighboring state or even across the country. You will be competing with people across the world.”

While those listening might have basked in the idea of not having classes before them, Wheelan asserted, “The bottom line is that you will perform jobs that, in some cases, haven’t even been invented yet and they will demand significantly more education than ever before. So, while today we celebrate your completion of an academic curriculum, you will be back.”

Having begun with a dose of realism, the native Texan moved to the subject of contentment, telling the story of a college football player whose first day in a class included an icebreaker with an 87-year-old student named Rose. Over the course of her academic career, the octogenarian shared wisdom, infused hope and helped a younger generation see aging with a new perspective.

Given the opportunity to speak to students less than a quarter of her age, the honored guest summarized, “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Wheelan emphasized the four-pointed moral of the story, stressing “You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.”

She closed her remarks by remembering a teacher’s admonition to her and fellow students on the verge of integrating a Texas school in 1964. “She told us was that it didn’t matter what color our skin was because we were all Americans and the word American ends in the letters I-C-A-N, I can; and she never wanted to hear us say what we couldn’t do until we had tried.

“You have proven that you have the spirit of American inside of you by getting to this point today. Don’t lose that spirit for on many days it will be the only thing that keeps you going.”

Click here to read a full listing of our Spring 2012 Graduates:  GRADUATES