Commencement Speaker Advises Graduates to Embrace the Challenge Ahead
Jennifer Haverkamp, a 1979 Wooster graduate, shares wisdom with Class of 2015
WOOSTER, Ohio — When Jennifer Haverkamp graduated from The College of Wooster in 1979, the prevailing attitude on campuses across the country was that college represented the best four years of one's life. But as class valedictorian and one of the speakers that day, she did her best to dispel that notion.
On Monday morning, addressing the Class of 2015, Haverkamp repeated her assertion, telling Wooster's 444 graduates, "do not let that be true. How depressing would that be?" Instead, she said, "hold on to the core of your Wooster experience, and carry it forward. Continue to hold yourself open to new ideas, new experiences, new friendships. Surround yourself with interesting people who stretch and challenge you. Find mentors, and be a mentor. Be a lifelong learner. Take risks. Test your limits. And don't forget to have fun."
Haverkamp, a highly regarded expert on international trade, sustainability, and global climate change policy and negotiations, joked that she accepted President [Grant] Cornwell's invitation to speak at commencement because she wanted a "do-over" of her own graduation, which was moved indoors because of inclement weather (ironically, Monday's ceremony was moved to the south side of Kauke Hall because of wet grounds in the Oak Grove). She also figured that it wouldn't be that difficult because she had already spoken at her own commencement, and thought for a moment that she might even use the same speech (if she could find it), but she quickly acknowledged that self-plagiarism runs contrary to the Wooster ethic, which she had proudly signed as a member of Wooster's Board of Trustees.
So instead, she consulted with an expert — her son, a college junior — and asked him, "what do you wish you had known at my age?" From that conversation, Haverkamp developed a series of helpful hints, including her belief that "the big decisions we face in those first years after college are seldom as monumental and irreversible as they seem at the time," adding that students should not "be afraid of making bold choices since there's really no way of seeing, when you go through one door, what other doors lie beyond."
In addition, she reinforced the importance of making a good first impression. "You never know who might turn up again as your future boss, or as the trusted advisor to someone you need to win over to your cause," she said.
Most notably, Haverkamp advised the graduates that starting out, "a career path is not all one ambitious summit assault on whatever professional peak you envision yourself," suggesting that there are likely to be plateaus along the way. "Don't always be in a hurry, sacrificing time with your family, your health, your friendships, and whatever else brings you joy on the assumption you can catch up on all that in your retirement, or after you've gotten that promotion," she said.
Haverkamp's remarks brought encouragement and relief to a senior class already burdened by the prospects of entering an increasingly uncertain and often unkind world. "In your career ascent, there will, unfortunately, probably also be deep valleys, and sometimes even cliffs," she said. "All of you will face serious challenges along the way...but the bad times will pass.
"Challenge is part of living," she added, "and our biggest celebrations are for the times we've surmounted obstacles, not avoided them. I am confident that you will get through what's thrown at you, armed as you are with your Wooster education and with the support of the Wooster community, who remains here for you after you walk out through that arch."
Haverkamp then challenged the Class of 2015 to be "actively engaged and globally savvy," adding that Wooster's mission "to educate students of character and influence in an interdependent global society is exactly on point." She further encouraged the graduates to intentionally expose themselves to views that are incompatible with their own and seek out objective, in-depth, fact-based commentary.
Also dispensing advice were senior class representatives Gentry Kerwood and Laura Merrell, both of whom praised their faculty mentors. "Our professors are brilliant, and they genuinely care about their students," said Kerwood. Merrill paid tribute to her I.S. adviser Hayden Shilling, who is retiring after 51 years at Wooster. "He was an invaluable academic mentor," she said. "My relationship with him is what Wooster is all about."
Others recognized on Monday morning were Erin Hodson, who received the Jonas O. Notestein Prize as the student with the highest academic standing in the class, and Shelby Stone, who won the Dan F. Lockhart Outstanding Senior Award for excellence in academics, leadership, and extracurricular activities. In addition, Patricia Hill Collins, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Perhaps the most noteworthy graduate on Monday, however, was the president himself, who will leave Wooster this summer to become president of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. In his opening remarks, Cornwell reflected on his eight-year journey at the College, saying that serving at Wooster was a tremendous honor, and that he will always be a Fighting Scot.