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Commencement Remarks

President Tim Killeen, May 2017

It is truly my honor to congratulate the Class of 2017 on behalf of your friends and supporters across the University of Illinois System. Today is a defining moment in your lives … among just a handful of milestones that will claim a permanent place in your lifetime memories. You have earned the spotlight that is shining on you today - and I hope you savor every second of it.

On this special day, I also want you to know that each of you holds a special place in our growing U of I family.  For the last few months, you have been part of history … members of the largest student body ever across our three great universities, more than 81,000 strong. Now, you are about to become part of a global alumni network that grows to record highs every year and will soar past 710,000 worldwide as you head off today to join them. The talents you nurtured here to lift your careers are just as meaningful to us as they are to you. Our graduates are the very foundation of the U of I System’s richly earned standing as a world leader in education, scholarship, discovery and innovation. Every one of your many achievements to come will showcase our excellence and our power to lead our state and our nation to a new era of progress and prosperity. You are real-world proof of our critical contributions to the public good and a beacon that attracts new generations of the best-and-brightest students to follow in your footsteps.

The next step in your personal journeys begins tomorrow … a new chapter filled with boundless opportunity. But I suspect the world that awaits you may seem a little daunting. 

In recent years, we have seen a steady and troubling shift in the national discourse.There seems to be a lot of talking, but not much listening. Emotion often runs at a fever pitch. A surge in divisive speech has even targeted members of our national community based on the very core of their being … race and religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and even their most cherished beliefs. The rise of social media, a valuable tool that has helped connect our world more closely than ever, has also served to darken the cloud of negativity … with blogs, posts and Tweets that are sometimes mean-spirited, venomous and intolerant.

You can help turn the tide.

You can follow the wise advice of Illinois’ favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, who had this to say as he sought to calm a nation on the cusp of civil war more than a century and a half ago: “If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles that now distract our country will come to an end … just as surely as all other like difficulties have been adjusted.”

So, I ask you today--keep your temper and:

Stand Up for the University of Illinois and for Public Higher Education, just as it has stood up for you!
Stand up for Inclusion and Diversity, and for tolerance and freedom of expression in all forms;
Stand Up for the Sciences and for Engineering;
Stand Up for the Humanities; Stand Up for the Arts; 
Stand Up for the Social Sciences - and for the development of new knowledge through deep, penetrating and refreshing research, scholarship, and creative work. 
Stand up for the wonderful Land Grant Mission that has nurtured your intellectual life so successfully!

With all this, you can help lead the way to the future through the same dedication and hard work that brought you here today. You averaged 17 hours of homework each and every week to earn your degrees. Think about that!! …Well maybe not each one of you contributed in the same way to that average ….But keep it up! Discernment is key. Think every issue through and search for the truth. Evaluate, analyze and then speak up, speak out and lead with the integrity that your time here has instilled. One-by-one, you can help optimism go viral … building a culture of respect and support that fosters collaboration and solutions, not polarization and gridlock.

In the words of social rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu: "Do your little bit of good where you are. It is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."

It is your time. Go forth. Make it happen. And I have no doubt that you will make us proud.

Enjoy today’s celebration, and be sure to thank the parents, family and friends and the wonderful faculty who supported you along the way. Their contributions to your success are immeasurable, and they should share the pride and the credit on this special day.

My congratulations again to the class of 2017. We’re so proud of you. Come back often, and we look forward to hearing about the countless achievements yet to come.