BUCKHANNON – The keynote speaker at West Virginia Wesleyan College’s 128th Commencement ceremony Saturday acknowledged the college’s 2019 graduation ceremony could easily be seen as the end of an era of learning.
However, Dr. Deborah Trautman, a 1980 graduate of Wesleyan, urged the approximately 247 undergraduate and graduate students to see it as the beginning of a journey of lifelong learning.
In essence, what she hoped they gleaned most from their studies was the value inherent in studying and learning itself, Trautman said.
Trautman’s speech – titled “Choices, Change and Opportunity” – emphasized the importance of what she called “the three Cs.”
She is the president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“Although you have completed one segment of your learning, this is an opportunity, though, for you to continue to recognize the importance of being a lifelong learner, continue to grow and develop professionally, but I hope that you remember three Cs,” Trautman said.
“Remember to always celebrate yourself, challenge yourself and care for yourself,” she explained. “You are part of the solution to improving our world, our nation, and it’s a heavy responsibility, and we all do it in different ways, but they are all important.”
Trautman, who had had a special congratulatory card from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing printed for 2019 graduates, directed them to look at three photographs on the back of the card.
Fireworks. Simply said, Trautman noted human beings often don’t take time to pause and celebrate their achievements and accomplishments before hurrying on to another endeavor.
The other two photographs were captured by Trautman’s friend, Michael Despines, a humanitarian aid relief worker.
One of the photos depicted three taxi drivers sitting curbside, waiting for their clients to return and watching the passersby. But they weren’t alone.
Somehow, a monkey had managed to find a seat between the first and second taxi driver. The monkey wasn’t a pet – nor was it attracted to the bright red scarf one of the men was wearing, Trautman explained.
Her friend told that the monkey had simply wondered over and began incessantly tapping of the drivers on the hip.
“So, the taxi drivers looked at each other, looked at the monkey, shrugged their shoulders and they scooted down to make room for the monkey,” Trautman said. “The message that I take from this photograph is … because I never thought that would have happened… is, ‘do not be constrained by the world as you know it today. Strive to create a new world. Dare to imagine what might be and strive to achieve it.’ That’s what I think about when I think about that monkey because who knew that would ever happen?”
She said the monkey’s actions also displayed “a determination to claim our rightful seat at the table.”
“We all have a duty to share our education, to share our experiences and to share our ideas,” Trautman told graduates. “We must actively seek out opportunities where we can do this, and those opportunities are going to look different to us at different points in our career.”
The third and final photograph was one of two zebras resting their heads on one another’s backs.
“In the wild, when zebras get tired, they do not lie down because they could become vulnerable prey,” Trautman explained. “Instead, what the zebras do is they rest their heads on the back of another. The message that I take away from this photograph … is that while there is unprecedented opportunity for each of you, it is not always going to be easy … I recognize that many of us, myself included, have had the opportunity to rest our head on the back of another.”
“We must not only take care of ourselves, but remember to take care of others,” she added. “I hope you all seek out mentors, and you yourself are a mentor to others.”
Trautman wrapped up her message with an African proverb – “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – and a quote from President John F. Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
“So, make lifelong learning a goal. I hope that you all strive to know more and learn more,” Trautman concluded.
Earlier in Saturday’s commencement ceremony, Wesleyan President Dr. Joel Thierstein also challenged students to be bold.
Thierstein said he knew some students were advancing to graduate school and career opportunities, while others were pausing for a moment to rest.
“Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, ‘wheresoever you go, go with all your heart,’ so graduates, my message to you today is this: Go boldly into the world with all your heart. Chase your dreams and make your dreams a reality,” he said.
Wesleyan’s 2019 Senior Class president Michael Winters also took a moment to thank faculty and staff for the support he and his peers had benefited from during their four-plus years at Wesleyan. He said he chose Wesleyan because of the people but had no idea how dedicated the professors and other teaching staff and mentors would be to providing a supportive learning environment.
In addition to serving as the commencement speaker Saturday, Trautman was awarded an honorary doctorate in science in recognition of her many achievements.
In addition to Trautman, dean of faculty Dr. James Moore and Thierstein conferred honorary doctorates of humane letters upon two other individuals – William B. Grant, a 1975 graduate of Wesleyan and retired chairman of the board and chief executive officer of First United Bank and Trust in Oakland, Maryland, and Roger Humphries, a nationally renowned jazz drummer, teacher and founder and leader of the RH Factor Bank.
“The conferring of honorary degrees allows Wesleyan to affirm the humane and Christian values upon which the college is founded by acknowledging individuals of outstanding professional and scholarly achievement who have made substantial contributions to society and the cause of higher education,” Moore remarked.
Prior to becoming CEO of AACN in 2014, Trautman received her Ph.D. in health policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; was named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow in 2007-2008; and worked for Nancy Pelosi when she was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“You have enjoyed a successful and distinguished career as a health care provider and a leader in your field,” Moore said.
Trautman has served in a number of prestigious positions, including director of nursing for emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.