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Meacham urges 251 Monmouth College graduates to treat history as an ally

05/15/2016
Commencement speaker Jon Meacham addresses the Class of 2016.
Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham urged members of Monmouth College’s Class of 2016 “to make history your ally and not your enemy.”

Meacham told the 251 Monmouth graduates and more than 2,000 guests gathered Sunday afternoon on the Wallace Hall Plaza that “you are headed off to lives of great consequence in a time of great consequence for America and for the world.”

Meacham, who delivered the address at the college’s 159th commencement ceremony, said that history “lies at the heart of our common public enterprise.”

The weekend also included a baccalaureate service, senior honor walk and senior gala dinner.

In his commencement address, Meacham, who is a frequent guest commentator on TV news shows, noted the “extraordinary electoral moment” that is the 2016 presidential election.
 
 
“Politically, we are in the midst of a great partisan struggle in which a professional political class of activists on the Internet and cable television appear to have more invested in the perpetuation of conflict than in the resolution of problems,” he said. “And in this very season, we face an extraordinary electoral moment in which an avowed outsider has successfully taken over the machinery of the venerable party of Lincoln, TR (Theodore Roosevelt), (Dwight) Eisenhower, (Ronald) Reagan and George H.W. Bush.”

Meacham -- who acknowledged that “we do not know what will what happen once autumn comes” -- said the 2016 presidential election is being shaped by a major debate about the role of government in American life.

“In an even larger sense, morally we face the great question of whether the great achievement of the last century -- the building, often at public expense, of a sturdy middle class that has benefitted from both private enterprise and government investment -- is to be sustained or discarded,” he said.

Bringing America Together
Meacham said that studying and understanding history could also help unify the country. He noted that Americans “don’t have a lot of things in common” right now because the culture is mired in “division and self-absorption.”

“And yet our common welfare depends not on what separates us but on what unifies us,” he said. “We must find a way forward. And we will do so, in my view, by consultation with the past. History has the capacity to bring us together. For the story of the American journey is ultimately the story of obstacles overcome, crises resolved and freedom expanded. We have always grown in strength the wider we have opened our arms and the more we have opened our hearts.”

Meacham also encouraged the graduates to examine the shortcomings of their own era.

“Let us also pause and think, ‘What injustices are we perpetuating even now that will one day face the harshest of verdicts from those who come after us?’” he said.

Prior to his address, Meacham was presented an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by Monmouth College President Clarence R. Wyatt.

‘Forever Young’
In his message to the graduates, Wyatt encouraged them to “be sure to come back to campus. Come back often. No matter where you go, this will always be home. ... And, from (First Lady) Lobie (Stone) and me, we wish that you will keep the spirit of these days forever. That you will be forever young.”
 
In his remarks to the graduates, senior class president Anthony Howe of Somerset, Wis., noted that “it takes a village to raise a college student.”

Howe encouraged his classmates to remember the people who played a role behind the scenes in their respective lives.

“I’m here today as a direct result of sacrifices that were made on my behalf,” Howe said,
 
In his address as Monmouth’s Lincoln Laureate from the Class of 2016, Drake Decker of Muscatine, Iowa, reminded his classmates of how much was accomplished over the last four years.
 
“These could be the most influential years of our lives,” he said. “We have every reason to be confident in our abilities in our future endeavors.”
 
Decker graduated summa cum laude, as did eight of his classmates: Matthew Bersell of Galva, Ill., Megan Byrne of Monmouth, Alexandra Dupont of Rock Island, Ill., Emily Flint of Springfield, Nathan Mesick of Princeton, Ill., Haley Miller of Viola, Ill., Alanna Trettin of Manito, Ill., and Kseniia Vasileva of Aberdeen, Wash.

Honors and Promotions
Four faculty promotions were announced at Commencement, including three faculty members who were promoted to full professor: Amy de Farias (history), Laura Moore (chemistry) and Ian Moschenross (music). Dan Ott was granted a tenured position and promoted from assistant professor to associate professor of philosophy and religious studies.

‘Let Me See’
On Saturday, May 14, Monmouth Chaplain the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott presided over a baccalaureate service that celebrated the arts. Contributions came from the departments of music, theatre, art and English.

Ott’s sermon, titled “Let Me See,” was inspired by the Gospel story of the blind man Bartimaeus who gained his sight.
 
“What do I hope for you as you leave this red brick oasis?” she asked the graduates. “The ability – most of all the desire – to see. ... We’re all blind in some way. The author Flannery O’Connor wrote that we must see the world as it is, before we can turn it into art. ... It’s an extraordinary place, but the world needs us and our gifts to turn it into art.”

And Ott encouraged the graduates to share their gift of a Monmouth education with the world.

“I want you to remember the charge Jesus gave Bartimaeus: Go ... don’t keep this gift to yourself. Don’t go back to being blind,” she said. “Take this gift and do something with it. Share this gift, and see it all.”
 

Commencement Program
Baccalaureate photos
Honor Walk photos
Senior Gala photos