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Western Governors University-Indiana Commencement

Remarks by Jamie P. Merisotis, President, Lumina Foundation
Indianapolis, IN, September 27, 2014

Good morning, graduates … and congratulations! I’m so pleased to be with you on this special day. It’s truly a privilege for me to join Chancellor Barber, along with the entire leadership and staff here at WGU-Indiana, as we honor your achievement.

You know, I mean what I just said: it’s a huge achievement. Your degrees aren’t just pieces of paper. They are real and important milestones in your life ― milestones that you reached through years of hard work and sacrifice. As graduates, you all deserve tremendous credit for that hard work—and not just you. Let’s face it: No one gets to this stage alone. No one becomes a college graduate without the help and support of loved ones. So I salute all of you ― spouses, children, friends and family members—for this significant—and shared—achievement. You all deserve every bit of credit and congratulations we can offer you today.

What’s more, you deserve our thanks, because the degree you’ve earned isn’t just about you, or even the loved ones who share this moment with you. It benefits all of us as Americans.

You see, you’re the solution to our nation’s most vexing problem. You, and other graduates like you, are the answer to America’s most pressing need … the need for talent.

The strength of our nation—of any nation ― is the talent of its people: the sum total of the knowledge, skills and abilities inherent in its citizens. Only with sufficient talent, and the right kinds of talent, can we meet the demands of the exciting, rapidly changing—and yes, at times somewhat terrifying new era in which we all live.

I know you’ve felt the pressures of that new era. I’m told that the average age of this graduating class is 39. Forty-three percent of you are, like me, the first generation in your families to graduate from college, and nearly all of you held down jobs while getting your degrees. In fact, many of you have been in the workforce for decades. You live and work in the real world. You know first-hand—and better than anyone ― how quickly and how profoundly that world is changing. You have lived through an era when thousands of traditional manufacturing jobs have disappeared. You’ve seen the historic shift to advanced manufacturing and other high-tech industries such as life sciences and biotechnology. In fact, a fair number of you are very much a part of that historic shift. You’re here today to accept degrees in information technology or the health professions.

Whatever credential you accept this morning, though, you’ve been part of another historic shift … a change that might even be more significant than the shift to high-tech employment. I’m talking about a monumental change within higher education itself: the shift away from the traditional idea of “going to college.”

You see, your experience here at WGU-Indiana represents the very future of higher education. Your education was transformative because it focused on what really matters ― that is, on the genuine learning that a college credential is supposed to represent. Because of WGU’s competency-based approach, you earned credit, not simply by attending classes, but by demonstrating what you know and can do. It’s an approach that puts quality first, and then makes it possible for each student to attain that level of quality in the time frame that works for that person. Simply put, it’s an approach built for today’s real-world students … students like you. And there are millions of you out there.

You and your WGU classmates are part of an immensely powerful wave: a tsunami of 21st-century students. It’s an amazingly diverse group—all ages, ethnicities, income levels, family situations and life experiences. In short, it’s a group that represents all of Indiana, and indeed, all of America … and, as I said earlier, we need to tap into all of this nation’s talent if we hope to thrive in this demanding era.

Today more than ever, higher education is the key to unlocking that talent. Unfortunately, American higher education wasn’t built for the 21st-century student. In fact, college was originally designed to educate just a favored few, the elite. Thankfully, that has changed, and more changes are coming.

WGU has been a pioneer in rethinking higher education, and is a huge part of that change. More and more results-oriented, student-focused institutions are taking their cues from WGU to redefine college by adopting a much-needed new approach. And that new approach is working; your success proves that.

Lumina Foundation is extremely proud to be a partner with WGU-Indiana in this vital effort to reshape the college landscape. Indeed, both Lumina Foundation and WGU exist for one purpose: to increase college attainment, particularly among students like you, the rising tide of 21st-century students who represent the future—of our state … of this nation … and of the democratic society we all hold dear.

My friends, you really have worked very hard to earn your spot in today’s ceremony. As college graduates, you’ve already realized at least one dream, and this state and our society will benefit tremendously from all of the dreams-come-true that are represented here today.

But the dreaming shouldn’t stop with today. In fact, your future should be defined by your dreams. For your sake ― and yes, for the sake of society at large—I urge you to follow those dreams … to foster them in others … to use your talent and your tenacity to make the most of every opportunity that awaits you.

Again, congratulations to each of you on this memorable day. And thank you for inviting me to be a part of it.

Tracy Chen

A series of reports show investing in employee tuition reimbursement yields significant financial payback.
See Talent Investment series