President Dennis Hanno addressing the class of 2015
President Dennis Hanno

Thank you, Lisa. You certainly inspire us all, and you have my commitment that I will be helping you and the children of the world. Thank you.

We’re almost there. It says in the program ‘Charge to the Class of 2015.’ I don’t know what that means, so I’m just going to share a few thoughts with you. Maybe for once you will listen to me. This is the last opportunity I have. In just a few minutes, it’s going to be your time to shine, when you walk across this stage and pick up what you’ve worked so hard to earn, a Wheaton College degree. As you make this last symbolic journey through the Dimple, I hope you will take a moment to revel in this accomplishment but also to think about what has made your Wheaton journey so special.

I want to share with you just a little bit about what has made my Wheaton journey so special already, even though I have only been here for one year. It’s really quite simple: You. You have made my Wheaton journey so special. Here is why I feel that way. A few days ago, picking up on a hashtag that has gained national attention, ‘College in Five Words,’ I started a little social media campaign I called ‘Wheaton in Five Words.’ I have actually received dozens of responses to this call as students and alums have shared what was most memorable of their Wheaton experience.

Some have been inspirational: ‘Beautiful place to call home.’ Some have been very personal: ‘Where I met my wife.’ Maybe that will happen to some of you today. And some have been a little puzzling to me: ‘FiveT on Thursday night.’ In fact, is that four words or five words? ‘Five T,’ is that two words? I don’t know. It seems here it is one word, ‘FiveT.’ Who knows? But if I were to write my own five-word summary of Wheaton today, it would be about you, and it would simply say: ‘You make dreams come true.’ You make dreams come true.

I’m not talking about some lofty nebulous goal for the future about the great things you will achieve. I’m talking about the way that every day and in every way you fulfilled the dreams of many who are around you here today. Look at this group.

Look at the group gathered here today. There are family and friends looking at you with adoring eyes and hearts filled with pride because you have and continue to make their dreams come true. I was so vividly reminded of that walking around here this morning, and people were out here by 6 a.m. trying to stake out the perfect space, and I had a great opportunity to talk to Lindsey Weissman’s grandmother, sitting right over here. She said to me—she was sitting there all by herself about 7 this morning. I think she had been there since 5 or 5:30. I don’t know. She said, ‘We promised Lindsey a long time ago that my husband and I were going to come out from California for this. We wouldn’t miss it for the world, even though it’s been a tough winter for you.’ Lindsey, you’re making their dream come true. Thank you for being here.

There are faculty and staff gathered here to celebrate you today because what they do, what Wheaton is all about: you. You make our dreams come true by being here and giving us the privilege of working with you. You have each other. You have learned and lived together, you’ve laughed and you’ve cried together, you’ve inspired and supported each other, you have made each other’s dreams come true.

This class has certainly achieved big things that fill me with pride that have helped to make my dreams come true. Amazing performances on our athletic fields. Incredible artistic accomplishments. A boatload of Fulbrights and other national awards. Leadership in so many ways and on so many issues of local and world importance. You have changed Wheaton in so many ways over the last four years that it truly is a different place, a better place than the one you came to in the fall of 2011.

Yet it’s not these big accomplishments that have made my dreams come true or that I will remember the most about this class. What I will remember the most is the little things that brought us together. Think about how you made the friendships here that will last you the rest of your life. It didn’t happen all at once or with big things. It happened slowly, one small interaction at a time. I think you will find that this is what life is really all about: Finding the little things that bring us together, and then building a strong and vibrant community on the basis of those commonalities and those little interactions. Your Wheaton experience was built this way, and mine has been, too.

Here’s just a few of my little memories from this year: Sitting on the bus next to Lindsey on the way to the Food Bank in Boston and working through those awkward conversations that you’re forced to have when you’re stuck sitting next to the president for two hours on a hot city bus. But then having hundreds of conversations after that, and even accepting the challenge to come to fencing practice. Cafe Fresh this summer. Hearing our Alex use words like ‘nascent’ in normal conversation and nodding my head and trying to pretend that I know what he is talking about. And then after looking it up in the dictionary, still not being able to use it intelligently in a sentence. That’s why he is the editor of the Wheaton Wire.

Sitting by the pond on one of my first days here and stumbling upon Hazie and Katie, and thinking to myself, ‘These two are crazy.’ And then confirming that almost every day throughout the year, they’re crazy.  But I was telling the truth when I said on Fox News, you are my favorite. I love crazy.

Getting a chance to interact with so many great parents from the day I arrived on campus. For example, Dana MacDonald’s dad emailing me a year ago and asking me if I could move this graduation to another time so her family could attend both this event and her twin brother’s graduation that is happening right now at Babson. I offered to move the other one. Sorry, I can’t do miracles. So they’re still at the same time. But I’ll bet Michael isn’t getting a shout-out at his graduation. And I hope you both had a great birthday—this week, right?

Then I had a special one in here for Farah’s dad, but Farah’s mom is going to have to deliver it. Please convey to Issa, I don’t know what I’m going to do without a weekly email from him—actually, the several emails every week I got from him. Tell him I hope he stays in touch. My inbox will be empty without her here anymore.

And the serious things like living in a convent in Rwanda for a week with Linnea, and Stefan, and Courtney Gilman, and Courtney Sitzman, and Molly and Nana, and knowing that what we were doing there was really making a difference in the lives of those we worked with. It was special. Which reminds me, speaking of parents, Nana’s mom must be here. Please don’t stop liking and commenting on everything I post on Instagram. I’d wonder what happened to you if I didn’t see you on there every time.

Things like Rebecca reaching out to me almost immediately after I arrived on campus to have a cup of coffee and chat. Then following that up as soon as she came back this week to do the same thing. Special moment. Giving my personal credit card to the front row here, the SGA officers, and saying, ‘You can spend up to $1,000 on decorations for Halloween,’ and thinking there’s no way they could spend that on decorations. And coming back with multiple carloads of stuff and a bill for—I’m not making this up—$999.73. That’s good budgeting, I guess.

Ivy Jane inviting me to come to the den for great coffee and conversation and greeting me with a big smile and a bright hello the hundreds of times I saw her this year around campus, even when she was hobbling around on crutches. Be careful walking up here today, all right? Sarah Estrela, helping me to register to vote on one of my first days here, and learning day after day that this simple act of social activism was just the tip of the iceberg. We are a better community because she cares and she shares her convictions in so many visible and powerful ways. Thank you, Sarah. Becoming, or at least I think I became, an unofficial honorary member of the Outdoor Haus, because it’s where all the cool people are, right? Thanks for taking me in. And Khadim. That’s all I wrote here. All I have to do is say ‘Khadim,’ and we all know what I mean. Love and friendship to me and many. Don’t ever change, Khadim.

The list is long, and it’s only been a year. These and so many other little instances are what have made my dreams come true this year. Getting to know you, learning who you are, what is important to you through these little interactions—that’s the way you build friendship and community. That’s the way you built the amazing community that is the Class of 2015, all of those interactions over these four years.

So as you walk up here in a few minutes, think about all these people whose dreams you have made come true, including me. Treasure the memory of all the things you have done together, all the things we have done together. Remember: We will always be here for you. We want to continue to help your dreams come true. And now, let’s make one of your biggest dreams ever come true. It’s time for you to graduate from Wheaton College.

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