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ODU’s 2019 Commencement Speakers Discuss Gratitude, Diversity, Capitalizing on Strengths and Making an Impact

By Noell Saunders, Harry Minium, Betsy Hnath and Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University held its 130th Commencement Exercises May 10 and 11 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Over the two days approximately 3,500 students were awarded bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees during four ceremonies, each featuring its own speaker, including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

Kaine addressed graduates of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Health Sciences and the College of Sciences during the University's final ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

ODU President John R. Broderick said Kaine was known for his optimism and his ability to bring people together.

"He's been a longtime friend of Old Dominion and me, and he actually spoke at one of the very first commencements I presided over 10 years ago," Broderick said.

Kaine discussed the importance of gratitude and the lifelong lessons he learned during his college days. He said this year was special because he was asked to give two commencement speeches - one at ODU and another at the University of Missouri, where he received his degree 40 years ago.

"It was May of 1979 and I was 21 years old when I received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Missouri with my parents and brothers in attendance," Kaine said. "I remember the feeling as if it was five minutes ago, the excitement of the accomplishment and sheer terror at what might happen at next."

Kaine said he was impressed by Old Dominion's accomplishments over the years. He highlighted some important statistics about the 2019 commencement ceremony:

  • 40 percent of the graduates received degrees in either STEM or health fields.
  • 60 percent of the graduates are women.
  • One in four students are military-affiliated (active duty, veteran, spouse or dependent).

"As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it always struck me as I traveled around the Commonwealth that no university in Virginia does more to make veterans and active-duty military family members feel at home on their campus," Kaine said about ODU.

Kaine recalled a story about his economics professor's impact on his life. He said a large portion of the grade in the class was based on attendance. His professor said this was to show appreciation to the state's taxpayers - some of whom couldn't afford to go to college or to send their children - for their role in funding higher education. The lesson about gratitude and the important role of public universities stayed with Kaine throughout his career.

"Public universities are the absolute heart of our education system and everyone in this country deserves to have great public universities and community colleges nearby, just like ODU, where they know they can receive a wonderful education," he said.

Lastly, Kaine asked graduates to show gratitude to their families, professors, board members and everyone else who made it possible for them to get to the finish line.

"Next to your wedding day, your college graduation day will be the single most memorable celebration that you will ever have in your life," he said.

Kaine was elected to the Senate in 2012 and serves on the Armed Services, Budget, Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committees. He is ranking member of the Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee and the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism. He also serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus.

He was first elected to office in 1994, serving as a city council member, and four years later, as mayor of Richmond. He became lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2002 and was inaugurated as Virginia's 70th governor in 2006.

Other ODU Commencement speakers included and Betsy Duke, chair of Wells Fargo & Company and former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Maj. Gen. Jeanette (Jan) K. Edmunds (U.S. Army-Ret.); and Carolyn Rutledge, professor of nursing at ODU.

Darden College of Education and Professional Studies and Strome College of Business

Saturday morning, Betsy Duke '83 addressed graduates of the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies and the Strome College of Business.

Duke has served as chair of Wells Fargo's Board of Directors since January 2018 and served as vice chair from October 2016 to December 2017.

Broderick highlighted Duke's status as an ODU alumna and supporter of the University. He also noted her early aspiration to be an actress before building a trailblazing career in banking.

"In 2015, she joined the board of directors of Wells Fargo and last year became the chair, making her the first woman to lead the board of a major bank," he said.

Duke earned her M.B.A. from ODU in 1983 and was an Executive in Residence at the University from March 2014 to September 2015. Duke previously served on the board of the Old Dominion University Educational Foundation and the Dean's Executive Advisory Council in the College of Business. She's also the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

In describing her journey to banking, Duke said,"It wasn't quite as smooth as it sounded when President Broderick described it. And if you're wondering what you're going to do next, it might help you feel a little better - or at least make your parents feel a little better."

"The paths to take to reach your own success formula are not always obvious," she added. "At least they weren't for me."

She started as a physics major before finding that "was way more complicated than I realized," Duke then switched her major to dramatic arts and pursued an acting career.

"Pretty soon, I realized I needed a more stable income," she said. "My dad insisted I try for a full-time job at a start-up bank."

That was a turning point in her life.

"As that start-up bank grew, there were more and more jobs for me to do," she said. "By being willing to dive in, I had a chance to try lots of different jobs and I learned from every one of them. I didn't like every one of them, but I learned from them. Soon I figured out that on-the-job training would take me only so far, and that's what led me to earn an MBA at Old Dominion, which I did while I was still working full time."

She urged students to add to their personal "tool kits," which will create more opportunities.

"If your first job or your current job isn't exactly what you want, look for other jobs or careers that use the tools you have," she said. "Or figure out how to get the tool you're missing. Sometimes you can even MacGyver your way around the missing tool as I did when I joined the Federal Reserve Board with a ton of banking experience but only two courses in economics."

She also encouraged graduates to embrace the chance to impact the lives of others.

"You will be role models, as parents to your children, as teachers to your students, as you achieve firsts of your own," she said. "Some of you are doing that today by becoming the first college graduate in your family.

"Give a hand out to those who look like you, but more importantly, to those who don't."

Among her positions during a long career in the banking industry, Duke was a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 2008 to 2013. She served as chair of the Federal Reserve's Committee on Consumer and Community Affairs and as a member of its Committee on Bank Supervision and Regulation, Committee on Bank Affairs and Committee on Board Affairs.

College of Arts & Letters

Maj. Gen. Jeanette (Jan) K. Edmunds (U.S. Army-Ret.) spoke to undergraduates of the College of Arts & Letters during the Friday afternoon ceremony.

Broderick praised her service to her country.

"Throughout her 30-year military career, Maj. Gen. Edmunds has become a respected leader in all aspects of military logistics, from research and development to the acquisition of new equipment and ammunition for ground, air and Special Forces," Broderick said.

"In 2002, she became the first female general to serve as the commanding officer of the 19th Theater Support Command in South Korea. She is widely credited with shifting the spirt of that command in a complex theater of operations."

In her address, Edmunds said that years after graduation, most alumni remember none of what their commencement speakers said, or even who spoke.

Her message was brief and simple "so that you might remember something said today."

Edmunds urged the graduates to embrace a world of diversity.

"Each of you is in the early stages of your own personal story, the story you will write about every day of your life," she said. "Up until now your story has been largely shaped by your parents, teachers and friends. Now you assume of the role of primary author.

"To be clear, I'm not talking about the stories that you have on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, and I'm not talking about a story written in 160 characters. I'm talking about your evolving personal story, one that has rich chapters and robust directors, one that records your contributions to the world and what it will be when the last period falls on the last sentence of your life.

"Here's my simple message, make liberal use of the word 'and' in your story.

"I believe the opportunity that Old Dominion University has given you to think critically and examine ideas has also given you the ability to see the world through an 'and' lens, not an 'or' lens. I see the simple conjunction 'and' as a way of driving inclusion into your world view, where 'or' tends to drive exclusion."

Edmunds spent 32 years inside the Department of Defense executing military aspects of America's national security policy. Other key general officer assignments included commanding a theater support command in Korea, command of the 13th Corps Support Command at Fort Hood, Texas, and command of the Army War Reserve Support Command in Rock Island, Ill. After retiring, Edmunds served as senior vice president for logistics in a defense aerospace consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.

Advanced Degrees

The Advanced Degree Ceremony (for students receiving master's and doctoral degrees in all fields) followed Friday evening with ODU's Carolyn Rutledge delivering the commencement address.

Rutledge holds dual faculty positions as professor of nursing at ODU and professor of family medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She has received 28 federal grants totaling over $16 million focused on creating delivery models that provide health care to rural and underserved populations.

In his introduction, Broderick noted Rutledge's contributions to both the University and community.

"One of the greatest crises facing health care today is the shortage of medical professionals for rural areas and underserved populations," Broderick said. "Carolyn Rutledge has devoted much of her life to addressing that issue."

Rutledge said that her country upbringing directly affected her career path and approach to medicine.

"I spent much of my childhood and young adulthood a little bit embarrassed about how I sounded," she said. "But I've come to really appreciate my Southern accent. I see my accent represented in the hard work of the people that live in the country, my people. It represents my ability to appreciate people from all backgrounds."

Rutledge advised graduates to investigate and embrace their unique characteristics and reminded them to capitalize on each other's strengths through life's journeys.

"Many people have helped you on this journey to achieve the degree that you will be receiving today. Take others on the journey as you leave this program and have a noble vision worth following," she said.

Rutledge finished with a story about one of her students - one she was advised against admitting into the program.

"This student really believed in herself. Her conviction was so strong that I believed in her," Rutledge said. "Within 10 months of attending the program she had opened her nursing practice in rural southwest Virginia. Within that 10 months the practice was in the black. And she graduated on time. This lady was 78 years old."

"Each of you had to believe in yourself, or you would not be sitting here today," she said. "You believed you could, so you did."

Since 2010, Rutledge has concentrated on improving health care in remote areas using telehealth technologies. She was the lead author on the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculty position paper on education in telehealth. Rutledge is spearheading development of the Telehealth Center for Education and Research at ODU and is co-chair of the University task force developing an interprofessional health care clinic in Virginia Beach.

She is the director of the online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at ODU, which ranks 15thin the nation. In 2014, Rutledge received the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award.

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