Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Commencement Reunion

Destiny by design

Posted on May 19, 2012

NORTON, MA—Destiny doesn’t just happen; instead, it is created by a lifetime of choices, and it is yours to design, Janet L. Robinson, retired CEO of The New York Times Company, told the Class of 2012 during Wheaton College’s 177th Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 19.

“It is important to remember that life is not just about chance, it is about choice. Chance is what the world brings to you, but choice is what you bring to the world,” the keynote speaker told the 404 graduating seniors. “Do not leave your journey to chance. Choose to do whatever it is that you love, and do it enthusiastically, relentlessly and unapologetically.”

In doing so, you can make a difference in the world, said Robinson, citing the life and work of New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died earlier this year from a severe asthma attack while on assignment in Syria.

“Over the course of his reporting career, he stared down unimaginable danger. He was shot and wounded in Ramallah. He was held captive and abused in Libya just last year,” she said. “He had a passion for bringing light to people, places, events and forces that seemed so far away, but have affected and will affect our lives so powerfully and so profoundly.”

“In short, because Anthony followed his passions, he did not take just joy from his work, he lived a life of tremendous meaning and greatly impacted the lives of many who read his well-chosen words. He served others through his writing. He was part of something much greater than himself. …Anthony was not content to leave life to chance or simply hope for the best. He actively chose to do something he loved.”

Robinson also drew from her own experiences. She graduated from Salve Regina College in Newport, R.I., now Salve Regina University, with a degree in English. She taught in Rhode Island schools for more than a dozen years, transitioned into the news industry and rose through the ranks at The New York Times Company.

Robinson, who has been included on Forbes magazine’s list of 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, joined the Times company in 1983 and was named CEO in 2004. Her tenure as CEO coincided with a seismic shift in the news industry, as print newspapers have declined and digital media have proliferated. In March 2011 Robinson oversaw the roll-out of a digital subscription plan for the company’s web operation, nytimes.com.

She retired from the Times in December 2011, but is still a major leader at institutions and organizations that play a role in education.

She recently was appointed chair of the board of trustees at her alma mater, where she has served on the board since 1993. She also is chair of the board of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which works ”to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”

“Like you,” she told the class, “I am at an exciting crossroad in my life. I recently retired from The New York Times Company and have begun a new chapter, one in which I will continue to follow my passion for education, for communication and for philanthropy.

“The best decisions I have ever made have been the consequence of choosing to follow my passion. In doing so, I have found tremendous fulfillment, happiness and the sense that I have contributed in a small way to the lives of others.”

“Soon you will have choices to make in your professional lives,” she said. “You will grapple with the question of doing what you love or simply keeping a job; following your true passion or simply following a paycheck; pursuing your dreams or simply pursuing a career. … My sincere wish for you on this very special day is that you will always choose to lead lives of joy, of purpose, and of service.”

During Commencement, Robinson was presented with the degree of Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Honorary degrees were also presented to two distinguished Wheaton graduates: Deborah Haigh Dluhy, Class of 1962, who became the first woman to serve as dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and also served as deputy director of the museum during her 32-year career at the MFA; and Barbara Jensky Kovensky, Class of 1967, president of Experchem Laboratories, a pharmaceutical and natural health products testing company in Toronto and a top female entrepreneur in the science industry.

Located in Norton, Mass., Wheaton is a selective college of the liberal arts and sciences with a student body of 1,600. Since 2000, nearly 175 Wheaton students have won prestigious international scholarships, such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright awards.

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