Dear colleagues:

This week, the year’s marquee celebrations kick off across the University of Illinois System.

Commencements symbolize the crucial mission we have been entrusted with for more than 150 years – to transform students’ lives and send off new waves of world-class talent year after year to lift the fortunes of our state, our nation and our world.

Our graduates represent the very core of what we do. And as we celebrate them, I hope all of you will also join me in taking a moment to reflect and to reaffirm how we do it.

The U of I System has earned its high global standing through values foreshadowed more than a century ago by our fourth president, Edmund James, who guided a then-fledgling university through an era of growth that helped make us the powerhouse we are today.

“Great things are waiting,” James said of the university in 1904 as his presidency began, “if it only measures up to its opportunities; if it only performs faithfully and simply the duties which the state thrusts upon it.”

His time-proven formula can lift us even higher – to a place as the standard for higher education in this century – if we continue stretching toward our ambitious goals faithfully, simply and with excellence and integrity painted through everything we do.

Integrity defines us. It is our touchstone in classrooms and laboratories, on football or soccer fields, and in our important role as advocates for both higher education and the needs of our state. And our ideals far outstrip the broad dictionary definition of honesty and strong moral character.

We are also forthright, hard-working and transparent. We are grounded, never cut corners and always share credit. We are dedicated, loyal and focused squarely on the public good. We are thoughtful, respectful and determined to make people proud, even when no one is watching. We take the high road. Always the high road.

Those bedrock Midwestern values don’t go unnoticed. Coupled with our rich legacy of excellence, they have added to our worldwide respect and our allure as a go-to destination, helping us set system-wide enrollment records, build on our ranks of world-class faculty and forge new research paradigms to tackle society’s most pressing challenges.

Better yet, the values we model also radiate for decades to come through the lessons that each and every graduate carries with them into the world. We send off over 22,000 every year, adding fresh winds of reason to the air of divisiveness and negativity that often pervades our nation in these turbulent times.

As the Class of 2019 takes the next step in its journey this week, be proud of what they have accomplished and of the solid foundation we have collectively instilled to help them succeed, both in the workplace and in their lives.

My deepest thanks for everything you do – for sharing the talents, the passion and the values that make the University of Illinois System altogether extraordinary.



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