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Be innovative in a world of risks

Terrorism expert urges graduates to seek solutions

Tom Sanderson ’92 delivering the keynote address

“More risk and opportunity than you can imagine” are on the horizon in a world experiencing disorder, Tom Sanderson ’92, a leading expert in the investigation of terrorism, transnational crime and global intelligence, told the graduates at Wheaton College’s 182nd Commencement ceremony on Saturday.

“The culprits are many, but bad governance, intolerance and deprivation are at the top of the list.’’ However, he encouraged students to get involved in seeking solutions: “Problems invite innovation, energy and attention. ...Pursue a role that makes a difference wherever you are in whatever you're doing. The ripple effects will be tremendous."

“Graduates of the Class of 2017, there is a seat open on the next flight to the Ferghana Valley or any other place you want to get in life,” he said. “And here is how you can book your ticket: Read, think, travel, engage, write. Educate yourself and others. Learning does not end here today … There is a lot more to discover and an immense amount to do.”

Sanderson, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Transnational Threats Project in Washington, D.C., studies terrorism, insurgency, criminal networks, global trends and intelligence issues as they relate to international public policy. He also serves as a course instructor and consultant for the U.S. government and in the private sector, testifying before Congress and providing expert commentary for the media and courts of law on the subjects of terrorism, geopolitics and global threats.

Delivering the keynote address to the 382 members of Wheaton’s Class of 2017, he revisited the transformative world events (including the shooting down of a commercial airliner by the Soviet Union in 1983 and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989) that sparked his curiosity and led him to major in international relations.

Through his Wheaton education, he moved from being a witness to transformation to being a changemaker. “What I learned at Wheaton remains an important part of my professional and personal foundation,” Sanderson said, noting that his coursework opened him to different perspectives that have proved to be fundamental to his work.

In the past 15 years, he has interviewed thousands of people across 70 countries—ranging from refugees and reporters to terrorists and traffickers. “Everyone has something to say and it’s important to listen and engage,” he said.

Sanderson shared a few anecdotes about some of the memorable situations his travels to global terrorist hotspots have led him into and the lessons he has learned over many years that may prove valuable to graduates. At the top of the list: “The harder you work, the more you will accomplish,” he said.

In closing, he urged the graduating class to continue to learn. “There is a lot more to discover and an immense amount to do. … Our alma mater has prepared you well for your own transformative moments, and there are many ahead.”

Sanderson is celebrating his 25th Reunion this weekend. He received an honorary degree at Commencement, along with two other honorees: Susan Schiffer Stautberg ’67 and Russell L. Goings. Stautberg is cofounder, chairman and CEO of the WomenCorporateDirectors Education and Development Foundation, the world’s largest organization of women board directors. Goings, who was unable to attend the ceremony, is a writer, businessman and art collector, among many other titles. He became one of the first African Americans to join the New York Stock Exchange and was the first chairman of the magazine Essence, which was born in his office in 1969. READ MORE about the honorees here.

This year, seven Wheaton seniors have been honored with national awards that will take them all over the world. Katrina Alden earned a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Malaysia; Kelvin Ampem-Darko, a Watson Fellowship; Paige Brnger, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Slovak Republic; Liam Grace-Flood, a Watson Fellowship; Emmeli Gordon, a Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) scholarship; Claudine Humure, an OZY Genius Grant; and Jessica Kruger, a Projects for Peace Grant.

Located in Norton, Mass., Wheaton is a selective college of the liberal arts and sciences with a student body of more than 1,650. Since 2000, more than 200 Wheaton students have won prestigious international scholarships, such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright awards.