Congratulations, Class of 2014!

Make a good life, not just a good living, keynote speaker Johnnetta Cole urges

Johnetta Betsch Cole
Keynote speaker Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Surrounded by the bright glow of joyful friends, family and the Wheaton community on a rainy Saturday in May, 391 seniors celebrated the culmination of their journeys here during the college’s 179th Commencement ceremony.

As they prepared to go out into the world, keynote speaker Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., offered students valuable advice about living abundantly.

“Some of you will leave Wheaton and go to various post-baccalaureate institutions. Some of you have already secured a place in the workforce. And yes, because of the state of the economy in our country, some of you are still perhaps looking for a job,” said Cole, a scholar, author, and activist for social and economic justice. “Whatever is your situation, let it be your goal to not only make a good living but to live a good life.”

Drawing inspiration from the words of world leaders, educators, social activists and others, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and Helen Keller, she laid out the foundation of what it takes to make a good life.

A respect for diversity and a high regard for others are both essential, she told the Class of 2014. Most important, it is vital that the arts be a part of everyone’s life, regardless of their major or career path, said Cole, pointing to President Ronald A. Crutcher as a model example of someone who not only has made the arts—along with leadership—a central part of his life but also has shared his talent with others.

“There is joy and power, instruction and inspiration in being involved on some level and in some way with music, dance, theater, literature and the visual arts,” she said.

“No matter where my life’s journey has taken me, or in what direction I have chosen to move, I will always make a conscientious decision that art must remain and be nurtured as a constant in my life.

“The arts are not a frill. The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature. The arts help to shape our identity,” said Cole, quoting the words of former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. “Art has the potential to unify. It can speak in many languages without a translator.”

During Commencement, which was held in Haas Athletic Center instead of the Dimple due to rain, Cole received an honorary degree, as did President Crutcher and four of Wheaton’s distinguished alumnae/i: Karen Strauss Cook ’74 (posthumously); Jonathan Crane ’95; Mary Anne Marsh ’79; and Anne-Imelda Radice ’69.

More than 600 alumnae/i from 30 states and a number of countries came to campus for Commencement Reunion Weekend, including Virginia “Ginny” Hovey Vranicar and Laila Raabe Rosseland, from the Class of 1944, celebrating their 70th Reunion.

In his remarks, Crutcher, who is stepping down, encouraged the students one last time as president: “You have great talent and potential, Class of 2014. With our Wheaton liberal arts education you have learned to listen closely, think carefully and act purposefully.

“Our vision for Wheaton is to graduate students who are global citizens prepared to lead in a complex society. This means that you are empowered and impassioned about promoting change locally and globally, no matter what you end up doing or where you end up living. Stay true to your values and your passion, and you cannot fail.”

More online
Read the citations and remarks and watch the entire ceremony at