2023 Commencement Ceremonies

Messages of Leadership, Empathy, and Resilence

Amidst an atmosphere of celebration and accomplishment, Western New England University's Class of 2023 bid farewell to their alma mater and stepped foot into a future brimming with boundless opportunities. Undergraduate and graduate addresses captured the culmination of personal growth, years of hard work, and triumph over unprecedented challenges.

“You chose to pursue a college degree—something that is difficult under the most ‘normal’ of conditions. But you did so in the face of the pandemic. You have proven yourselves to be a class of persistence and perseverance,” said University president, Dr. Robert E. Johnson, addressing the graduates. “Stay curious in this ever-changing world. Remain agile so that you are able to learn, unlearn, and relearn.” President Johnson further urged the graduates, buoyed by their resilience in navigating adversity, to embrace their roles as catalysts for positive change, both in their chosen professional paths and as influential forces in society.

President Robert E. Johnson

These ideals of positive change and unwavering determination were exemplified in the selection of student commencement speaker Emily Wambach ’23 and the honorary degrees conferred by WNE upon Jon Clifton and Thomas Lines.

For his contributions to the world of data analytics, leadership, personal exploration and growth, and global polling, Gallup CEO and undergraduate commencement speaker Jon Clifton was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Founder and CEO of Quercis Pharma and graduate commencement speaker Thomas Lines received the honorary Doctor of Science degree for his leadership and significant contributions to the field of biopharmaceuticals and drug development. Prior to their addresses, WNE recognized these two individuals whose dedication, intellectual prowess, and profound commitment to improving society have served as driving forces behind their impactful contributions and enduring personal legacies.

Reflecting on Growth and Embracing New Beginnings

Emily Wambach ’23, of Auburn, MA, was selected among her peers to deliver the undergraduate student address. The three-year peer advisor and former president of the Society of Women Engineers recounted the fears and obstacles she and her classmates overcame to make it across the stage—from the anxiety of leaving home for the first time, to living up to expectations, to the change and uncertainty that came with a global pandemic.

Emily Wambach

“Our time as college students was far from normal or from what we expected, but we didn’t let that stop us from following  our dreams or reaching our goals,” said Wambach, a Biomedical Engineering major and Psychology minor. “It is not possible for me to stand here today and accurately tell each of our stories, but that’s the beauty of our time here. We cannot say that we all walked the same path, but we can say that we ended at the same point, walking out today as alumni. You were all able to take advantage of the different opportunities in front of you and shape yourself into who you wanted to be.”

Wambach eloquently highlighted the diversity of experiences that united her fellow graduates as a class, urging them to cherish the connections they have formed and to remember the impact each individual has made on their journey.

Three Pillars of Success

Bringing a global perspective to the undergraduate commencement ceremony, Gallup CEO Jon Clifton drew upon Gallup’s research and insights to reflect on three qualities shared by accomplished leaders: the importance of active listening, building resilience in adversity, and awareness of our own unique strengths.

Jon Clifton

Clifton shared several stories that illustrated his first pillar of success: the power of simply taking the time to ask and listen. He recalled an emotional encounter with a woman he interviewed in Vietnam, saying, “She told us about her work and boss, and we eventually asked about her happiness. Everything went quiet. She cried and said, ‘No one has ever asked me about my happiness or health.’” Clifton added that this woman is not alone, and the encounter represents the current state of loneliness for many. “We find that just here in the American workplace, 25 percent of people feel totally ignored. In fact, globally we find that 330 million people don’t have a single interaction with another human being over a two-week period of time.” The heartfelt moment served as a powerful reminder of the effect that genuine listening can have on others.

In illustrating the second pillar of success, Clifton underscored the importance of resilience in moments of adversity. Drawing from Gallup’s “Leading with Strengths” project, which explores the qualities of successful leaders, he emphasized that setbacks are an inevitable part of life. The ability to face adversity head-on and use it as a driving force for growth is a shared trait among accomplished individuals. Clifton recounted the inspiring tale of Walt Disney, who, after being fired, harnessed his strengths, persevered, and went on to create one of the most iconic characters in history—Mickey Mouse. The message to the graduates was clear: cultivate resilience in the face of challenges, understanding that setbacks do not define their future but can serve as stepping stones toward success.

Clifton’s final pillar called upon graduates to know their own strengths. Gallup’s research has shown that each person’s unique strength sequence is incredibly rare, with the likelihood of finding someone with the same sequence being one in 34 million. Clifton urged his audience to embark on a journey of self-discovery, to uncover their gifts, and to embrace their uniqueness. By understanding and harnessing their strengths, graduates can make a profound impact on the world. “Among us I believe are the world’s next great generals, the next great school teachers, the next great nurses, and maybe the next great president. The world needs you to find what it is you’re greatest at…because if we’re going to build the better world of tomorrow, we need you to help lead it.”

Lessons in Resilience, Cultural Agility, and Kindness

Tom Lines, founder and CEO of Quercis Pharma, shared personal anecdotes and invaluable life lessons with his inspiring graduate ceremony address. As a first-generation graduate, he spoke of breaking down barriers and achieving what was once impossible, contending that our origins are not our destiny. Recounting his impoverished childhood in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Lines shared a crucial lesson he learned early on: ask questions when faced with the unknown. He reflected on his experience as a young boy sent on a frivolous errand by his employer, learning only after his failed mission that the items he had been in search of did not exist. Lines emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge and guidance rather than making assumptions or being too embarrassed to ask for help.

Tom Lines

Lines then told of a profound exchange with the late President Nelson Mandela, when Lines had impulsively suggested a national day of racial role-reversal. President Mandela reminded him of the importance of thinking before speaking, and Lines welcomed the lesson on the value of listening and humility. “As graduates, you will undoubtedly encounter situations where you may feel the urge to act impulsively or seek retribution for perceived wrongs,” he said. “The better way is to listen to others, to try to understand their perspectives and experiences, and to think carefully before speaking or acting. This requires a willingness to be humble, to acknowledge our own biases and blind spots, and to seek out diverse opinions and viewpoints.” By embracing this approach, Lines stated that graduates will build stronger relationships, foster understanding and empathy, and contribute to a more connected and compassionate society.

Recounting the 2008 financial crisis when a major business deal nearly fell through, resilience emerged as another key theme in Lines’ speech. With bankruptcy looming days away, he persuaded PepsiCo to enter equal partnership and purchased Merck Natural Products. Lines persevered in the face of obstacles, took a risk, and remained unwavering in the pursuit of his goal, and he encouraged graduates to do the same.

Following his acquisition of Merck, Lines detailed his mistake of exploiting cultural assumptions at a meeting with management in Brazil. He highlighted the importance of understanding and appreciating different cultures, effectively communicating across cultural barriers, and fostering collaboration with individuals from diverse backgrounds. He advised graduates to embrace cultural diversity by building bridges and making positive impacts on a global scale.

Lastly, Lines shared the timeless lesson of kindness. He circled back to his childhood with a memorable encounter with a local locksmith, who taught him the power of treating others with respect and empathy. Kindness, he emphasized, costs nothing but can make all the difference in the world. Lines urged the graduates to embody kindness in their interactions with others, emphasizing its profound effect on personal and professional relationships.

The commencement ceremonies were a testament to the collective achievements and growth of the Class of 2023. As they embarked on their individual paths, Western New England University’s graduates stood ready to leave an indelible mark on society, armed with the wisdom shared by each distinct yet interconnected message.

May our graduates continue to embrace the lessons learned, pursue their dreams with unwavering determination, and inspire positive change in the world.

Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by
Free HTML5 Bootstrap Template by