Commencement address inspires Class of 2016 to make its mark—but “never forget who you are or where you came from”

Graduation 2016A plumber’s son from Scranton, Pa., drew on his dad’s advice in offering the final words of his commencement address to Case Western Reserve University’s Class of 2016.

“No matter what I achieved, he always said the same thing,” said double alumnus and university trustee Mark A. Weinberger. “‘Mark, never forget who you are or where you came from.’

“Now, Class of 2016, let me turn my dad’s advice on all of you,” continued Weinberger, global chairman and CEO of EY (formerly Ernst & Young). “Who are you? You’re innovators. You’re disruptors. You’re leaders. Where did you come from? You came from Case Western Reserve University—and you should be damn proud of it.”

Weinberger, who earned his JD and MBA from Case Western Reserve, conveyed much genuine perspective and inspiration to about 2,100 graduates Sunday morning in the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center.

But before convocation began, Weinberger and all of the other dignitaries and degree recipients had to navigate a wet, cold and windy processional from their schools and other buildings. On this morning, umbrellas appeared even more common than mortarboards—at least until the clouds opened a couple of hours later.

President Barbara R. Snyder opened her remarks with a nod to the inclement conditions. The university had presented students many tests during their time on campus, she said, but “Commencement was not supposed to be one of them.”

Graduates facing rainy conditions at commencementFollowing convocation, at which degrees officially were conferred for all undergraduate, graduate and professional-school students, each school and college hosted a separate diploma ceremony in various locations on or near campus.

Weinberger, who actually started with EY (then known as Ernst & Whinney) working on tax returns in the Cleveland office while a student at Case Western Reserve, advised graduates to stay open to other possibilities besides any immediate career plans the may have.

“This school has prepared you to do more than you can ever imagine right now,” he said. “Trust me, I’ve lived it. I spent a decade in government without ever studying politics. I started my own law firm before I’d ever practiced law. And now I run a global accounting firm, even though I don’t have an accounting background. … Ultimately, your degree enables you; it doesn’t define you.”

Weinberger also encouraged graduates to find balance in their lives—especially when it comes to keeping family commitments.

Mark Weinberger delivers commencement address“As much as you focus on your seat at the conference table,” he said, “it’s just as important to find your seat at the dinner table. … No matter how fast your career is moving, it’s important to stop every now and then and evaluate what really matters to you.”

During commencement exercises, President Snyder presented the 2016 President’s Award for Visionary Achievement to the Fowler family: Charles “Chuck” Fowler, Charlotte “Char” Fowler and their daughters and sons-in-law, Chann Fowler-Spellman and Edward F. Spellman, and Holley Fowler Martens and Robert F. Martens. The award, bestowed on a family for the first time, recognizes service to the university, humanity and the world.

As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world,’” he said. “I encourage each of you to change the world in your own way, and to remember to stay connected to your Case Western Reserve community. We want to know how you make a difference in the years to come.”

Citing the motto of Fairmount Santrol, the company where he served as president and CEO from 1996 to 2013, Fowler added, “Do good, do well.”

Commencement cap that says "thanks mom and dad"President Snyder also presented honorary degrees to physicist Richard Garwin (CIT ’47), philanthropist and trustee emerita Norma Lerner, international humanitarian Rosemary McCarney (MGT ’82) and real estate executive Albert Ratner. Last fall, legendary singer-songwriter-producer William “Smokey” Robinson received an honorary degree as part of the Annual Music Masters Series.

The university grants honorary degrees at spring commencement each year to recognize excellence in human endeavor, including scholarship, public service and the performing arts.

In addition, Eva Kahana, the Pierce T. and Elizabeth D. Robson Professor of the Humanities and Distinguished University Professor and director of the Elderly Care Research Center at Case Western Reserve, received the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize, awarded annually to a faculty member whose exceptional achievements in teaching, research and scholarly service have benefited the community, nation and world.

“For 30 years now,” President Snyder said in conferring the award, “you have immeasurably enriched the lives of your colleagues and your students.”

Graduates walk down aisle at commencementAfter degrees were officially conferred, Jeff Verespej, president of the Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve and a double alumnus, congratulated the graduates and welcomed them as the newest members of group of 110,000 worldwide.

“Over the coming years, you will fully transition into the life of an alum of Case Western Reserve University,” Verespej said. “What does that life look like? We are the builders, global leaders and community members who shape the world. We are the innovators, performers and practitioners who change the world. … We give back. We honor those that paved the way for our successes. We serve. We pass on to future generations of students the rich history that started in 1826 and is continually created by each one of us today.”

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