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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Speakers Share Inspiring Messages and Words of Advice at May Commencement Ceremonies

A Virginia congressman, an international economic expert and a veteran military chaplain delivered words of advice and inspiration to graduates at Old Dominion's 118th commencement exercises on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11.

For the second straight year, spring commencement was split into three ceremonies over two days to accommodate the more than 2,600 undergraduate, master's and doctoral students taking part in the programs at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

At the first ceremony, which took place Friday evening, graduates of ODU's largest college, the College of Arts and Letters, heard from Inés Bustillo, director of the Washington office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). A national of Uruguay, Bustillo has served in the position since 1999.

Bustillo told the graduates that while their own life has undergone tremendous changes in their years at the university, the world around them has changed dramatically, too.

"Many of these changes have made our world a better place. For example, during your lifetime and for the first time in history, a majority of the world's population is living under democratic systems," Bustillo said.

Despite many other positive advances for the world, Bustillo noted, 2.5 billion people still live in poverty. "New ideas and more action are now necessary."

To the graduates, Bustillo issued the challenge of a "take home" final exam. "There are no easy answers nor a fixed deadline, and a final grade will not be given, but I hope you would consider this to be your ultimate honors thesis."

Bustillo challenged graduates to come up with ideas that build societies that are more inclusive, where everyone has a fair chance; to propose actions so the world can meet the needs of the present without compromising capacity to sustain life in the future; and to contribute to improved cooperation among people, communities and countries, toward the common global good.

Bustillo, who supervises studies on macroeconomic and international finance issues and on trade and market access in her position as ECLAC director and serves as the commission's liaison with the governments of the United States and Canada, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the commencement ceremony.

U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) spoke to graduates of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences and College of Sciences at the morning ceremony on Saturday. A former Virginia state legislator, Forbes was elected to Congress in 2001 as representative of Virginia's 4th District. He chairs the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.

In opening his remarks, Forbes said ODU was great not because of its buildings or endowment, but rather because of the "dedication of its faculty and administration and commitment of its student body."

The congressman said he was "tempted" to be jealous of graduates receiving degrees Saturday, while noting the "enormous challenges" they will face.

Forbes offered four guiding principles: Take the time to make good choices, don't quit, help other people and give something to the country.

If those four principles are applied, "I believe ... America will be a better place," Forbes said.

Also at the Saturday morning ceremony, the university conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree upon composer and conductor John Duffy. Considered "one of the great heroes of American Music," Duffy has composed more than 300 works for symphony, orchestra, opera, theater, television and film. He has received many awards for his contributions to music, including two Emmys and the American Music Center's Founders' Award for Lifetime Achievement. Duffy lives in Norfolk and works in conjunction with the Virginia Arts Festival and ODU on the John Duffy Composers Institute. Founded in 2005, the institute is dedicated to the inspiration, creation and performance of new music by living composers.

At the university's final commencement program Saturday afternoon, Barry C. Black, chaplain of the United States Senate, addressed graduates of the Darden College of Education and the College of Business and Public Administration. A retired rear admiral who ended his military career as the chief of Navy chaplains, Black has served as U.S. Senate chaplain for the past 10 years.

Black, who also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, drew from his own educational background for his words of inspiration. It was a background that, in fact, included a period in the mid-1990s when he took a course at ODU, Biological Basis of Behavior. It was a course he needed to pass for a Ph.D. in psychology at another university.

It proved to be no easy task, however. After dropping the course twice to study more, due to a grade of D on both midterms, Black said he re-enrolled for a third semester. But after once again managing no better than a D on the midterm, this time he joined "a great study group," worked harder and completed the course, making a 99 percent on his final and bumping up his overall grade to a B+.

Black told the graduates he shared this story to let them know they have a commencement speaker "who knows about the crosses you have had to bear to reach this milestone moment."

His main message, delivered in a clear and powerful voice, was: "Persevere in your pursuit of excellence." Black offered the following suggestions for how to go about this: strive for great preparation, seize life's opportunities and refuse to give less than your best.

"When you leave here, there will be opportunities for you to do the minimum, to refuse to go the extra mile, but if you are going to maximize your possibilities, refuse to give less than your best. You have untapped potential; you have untapped capacities."

Black concluded with a reminder to "keep persevering no matter what obstacles there may be," and quoted several lines from the late Anglo-American poet Edgar Guest's "It Couldn't Be Done," whose closing lines are: "Just start to sing as you tackle the thing, That 'couldn't be done,' and you'll do it."

With his final message of "Peace," the graduates, along with their family members and friends, gave him a rousing standing ovation.

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