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Preparation for a purposeful life, well-lived

May  25, 2014

President’s Commencement Comments, Augustana College Commencement, May 25, 2014

Steven C. Bahls

Members of the Class of 2014: It is my honor to congratulate you on behalf of the faculty, staff and administration of Augustana College. We are so proud of your accomplishments. And I speak for our faculty and staff when I say that we are so very proud to have had the opportunity to serve you.

There is one distinction your class has that no other class has – you are the largest graduating class in the history of Augustana College, having started four years ago as the largest first-year class in the history of the college. We expect 637 students to graduate this academic year.

What is most notable about your class, however, is not its large size. It is the size of your accomplishments. The Class of 2014 is a large class with even larger accomplishments.You have distinguished itself in the classroom, on the athletic field, on the stage and by volunteering in the community. Approximately 93 percent of the hands I shake today started only four years ago – a high percentage only dreamed of by most colleges. You have fully and responsibly used our Augie Choice program, with more than half of you traveling abroad and nearly 60 percent of you having had internships in settings across the country and around the world.

You have demonstrated your commitment to academic excellence through your Senior Inquiry projects, which virtually all of you have completed. Because of your academic excellence, you are better able to discern, within the framework of your own values, what is true and what is good. You have demonstrated your commitment to teamwork and your humility through your performance in sports and in our music ensembles. And you have demonstrated your commitment to social justice and the well-being of others through your involvement in Camp Kesem, Saint Baldrick's, Dance Marathon, Relay for Life, Viking Pups and so many more.

Before too long, I will award your degrees and, as tradition has it in higher education, formally welcome you to the company of educated women and men. But before I do, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.

Robert Frost in his well-known poem, "The Road Not Taken," wrote:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Students, by choosing a residential liberal arts college, you have had the foresight and courage to take the road less traveled. And, if you are like other Augustana graduates, I suspect it will make a large difference for you.

Did you know that only about 3 percent of American college graduates were educated at residential liberal arts colleges like Augustana? They took the road less traveled. But because you were educated at a liberal arts college you are nearly three times as likely to be named by Forbes magazine as one of the nation’s most successful corporate CEOs. And, just as impressive, you are nearly three times as likely to be a Peace Corps volunteer. How can that be – nearly three times as likely to be a member of the Peace Corps and a leading corporate executive. It is because graduates from residential liberal arts colleges are extraordinarily engaged during their college years and are extremely engaged in their communities after graduation.

The impressive statistics about graduates from residential liberal arts colleges do not stop there. Though we account for only 3 percent of American college graduates, we account for 19 percent of U.S. presidents and nearly 20 percent of scholars elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. I could go on.

The real benefit of a residential liberal arts education is about more than excelling at work – it is about leading a purposeful life, well-lived.

A Gallup survey released earlier this month studied the role of colleges in preparing students for purposeful lives, well-lived. It studied what predicts well-being in life. After reading the report, I am more convinced than ever that Augustana’s graduates will enjoy a disproportionate level of well-being, in part because of the magic of Augustana College. Let me explain.

What makes for well-being according to Gallup? Your parents will likely recognize these factors, which include:

• “Liking what you do each day”

• “Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life”

• “Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress”

• Engagement in your community: “liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community”

• “Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis”

What was interesting to me is that college experience can positively impact the odds of thriving in areas of well-being. College graduates are nearly two times more likely to experience higher levels of well-being if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals, if they had a professor who made them excited about learning and had teachers and others who cared about them as persons. This is where Augustana College excels. While only 27 percent of college graduates nationally strongly agree that professors cared about them as persons, more than half of students at Augustana strongly agreed that faculty cared about their development as a whole person. And nearly 90 percent of our seniors agree that professors are interested in helping students grow in more than just academic areas.

Why does it make a difference when you have college professors who encourage you and excite you about learning? The people at Gallup didn’t really explain that, but I have a theory. A pretty good one, I think. Your professors, coaches and staff believe in you. At first, they believed in you because you satisfied Augustana’s high admissions standards. They admired you for taking the road less traveled by choosing a small, residential college. Then they got to know you both in and out of the classroom. They saw your potential and held you to high standards. And you met those standards. And now – because they believed in you, by helping you attain high standards – you believe in yourselves.

Because of your success at Augustana, you know the power of your ideas and that your ideas can make a better world. And through your many activities you’ve demonstrated that you have it in you to lead purposeful life, well-lived.

So, students, use your education well. May you continue to take the road less traveled, and trust that it will make all the difference in the world. Use your education to discern what is true and what is good. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. But most of all, continue building on your experiences here for a purposeful life, well-lived.

Students, it has been an honor for all of us to be a part of your lives. We are very, very proud of you! May God bless and keep the Augustana College Class of 2014!