President of the Board of Trustees Commencement Address

June 15, 2021

Alisia St. Florian ’86, President of the Board of Trustees

Welcome graduates, families, faculty and friends to the commencement exercises for the class of 2021!

As Chair of the Board of Trustees, it is my great honor to congratulate you on behalf of the entire Board on your achievements. A Wheeler diploma is a tangible symbol of your work, creativity, determination, imagination, and immeasurable potential. You have every reason to be extremely proud of yourselves.

My message to you today as you move into your next chapter is just say yes. After a period where our lives felt shrunken and restricted due to the pandemic, we are now at a place when we can joyously celebrate this day in person and where there is a sense of hope and light in the air. A feeling that life may be returning to a place where we can congregate and enjoy one another unrestricted and unencumbered.

It is the perfect time to say yes.

You may be asking yourself what does it mean to just say yes. In my view, it is about making a deliberate choice to approach life with a perspective of openness mixed with a dose of courage. For example, as you fill out your roommate selection forms this summer, be open to the possibility that the friends you will make may be different from what you expect. When you select your courses for your first semester in college, sign up for classes just because they sound interesting. Join clubs and organizations on campus that you never pictured yourself a part of. If you are working this summer or next school year, say yes whenever your boss asks you to do a task, even if you don’t feel confident about it or don’t feel like doing it. Stretch yourself and be open.

Be curious, ask questions and watch how your world will expand.

If I can impart one piece of advice, it is to seek out and accept challenges, big and small.
Every day we are confronted with choices. There is always a safe path and one less certain. Even if you don’t consider yourself a risk-taker, I encourage you to deliberately venture into unchartered territory from time to time. Whether it is in the foods you eat, the friends you make, the places you visit, the books you read, the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, always try to expand your horizons.

Train yourself to take the perspective of others and to see and hear things through their eyes and ears. Be empathetic and passionate about your interests. Pursue fiercely causes that ate meaningful to you, and never back down from a vigorous debate. Never tolerate divisiveness, prejudice, or hate, and be a champion for inclusion, diversity, and equality.
Remember your childhood friends – your peers with whom you are sitting today – cherish them and the memories you have made together. Always remember that new friends do not replace old friends. Expanding the fabric of your social circle makes life richer it doesn’t mean anyone needs to be left behind.

Come back to Wheeler for your reunions and stay connected with your teachers. Your years at Wheeler gave you the foundation to set out on your next adventures. As you are now nearly my fellow alums, I welcome you to this community of lifelong connectedness.

In summary, I leave you with this – say yes to life, and life will say yes to you in so many bountiful, unexpected and magical ways. I wish you all the best as you move into this world that needs you and is waiting for your contributions.

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