Commencement speaker urges graduates to put realistic goals to paper, aim high and ”think for yourselves”

Mohamed Ibn Chambas speaking at CWRU commencement
Mohamed Ibn Chambas gives the commencement address Sunday.

As an international mediator and peacekeeper whose efforts have brought stability to war-torn regions of his native Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas exists in a world where challenges are either met, or people suffer.

As Sunday’s commencement speaker for the Case Western Reserve University Class of 2014, Chambas posed one to graduates: “With these tools, today begin to dream, focus and actualize your purpose,” said the joint special representative for the United Nations and the African Union in Darfur. “I urge all of you proud graduates of 2014 today to put down on paper the seven goals of your life for the coming five years. Be realistic. Be creative. Never limit yourself. Put down goals, which are feasible within the context of your country and its realities and limitations. Never underestimate your own God-given powers.”

Chambas’ address highlighted a ceremony in which more than 1,800 graduates who attended commencement at the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center received degrees. Another estimated 3,500 family members and friends of graduates filled the center for the convocation before dispersing for separate diploma ceremonies by discipline campuswide.

“Count yourselves privileged, all of you graduating today,” urged Chambas, a 1984 graduate of the Case Western Reserve School of Law, “because the education you have acquired is providing you the power to seize the future and mold your destiny with no bounds globally.”

Yet education alone isn’t enough because “the most important things in life are never taught within the walls of the academy,” said Chambas, the international mediator who helped resolve the Liberian Civil War of the 1990s and the Ivory Coast Civil War in the early 2000s.

Students won’t find their life’s purpose or how to choose a spouse, raise a family or be a good community citizen in any syllabus, he said, encouraging them to use what they’ve learned to think for themselves.

“Your education at [CWRU] has endowed you with the intellectualism and critical thinking abilities for you to distinguishingly pursue your purpose, interests and happiness,” he said. “…Please be prepared on your own to use your education and analytical skills to learn to adapt and to succeed in the real world ahead of you.”

In addition, Sunday’s commencement was a time to recognize and thank two long-time university trustees whose terms are ending: Double alumnus David Hunt, a trustee since 1993, and Jennie Hwang, who has served on the board since 1996.

In a moment both poignant and humorous, President Barbara R. Snyder acknowledged the enormous contributions of the School of Dental Medicine Dean Jerold Goldberg—to the chants of “Jer-ry, Jer-ry” from admiring students. Goldberg is stepping down as dean but will continue on the faculty of the school.

“Dean Goldberg’s accomplishments are numerous,” President Snyder said, detailing his many surgical missions to Mexico, Ecuador and Nepal and the craniofacial center he founded in Lithuania. “Applications have doubled, the number of faculty with doctorates or board certification has quadrupled and dental students have provided sealants to thousands of Cleveland schoolchildren each year. Our on-campus dental clinic serves people who otherwise may have forgone cleanings and treatment.”

Karen Olness, a professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine since 1987, 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, the nation and the world. Olness has become an international leader in developmental behavioral pediatrics, infectious diseases in children and pediatric disaster relief.

“Whether by working to alleviate pain for children with cancer, striving to reduce HIV transmission from mothers to babies in Uganda, or providing medical attention to children orphaned in Rwanda,” President Snyder said, “your work has saved or improved the lives of children worldwide—and provided the scientific basis for new treatments and innovative approaches.”

Snyder also bestowed the 2014 President’s Award for Visionary Achievement to the Cleveland Foundation and its President and Chief Executive Officer Ronn Richard for demonstrating a history of prominent philanthropic engagement that benefits the CWRU campus, the broader community and the nation’s most underserved citizens.

President Snyder related the foundation’s extensive legacy for supporting the university’s medical research, from a Depression-era grant that helped find an eventual cure for polio, to a $10 million commitment toward the development of a new health education campus.

“The university is hardly the only institution to benefit from the foundation’s generosity,” President Snyder said. “… Since 1914, the foundation has been a force behind some of our region’s most successful initiatives: Greater Cleveland’s Metropark system, the launch of public television in Cleveland, the Free Medical Clinic, and the rebirth of Playhouse Square. … When Ronn Richard took the helm of the foundation in 2003, he continued this bold thinking—and cranked it up a notch.”

President Snyder also conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Chambas, and honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees to award-winning poet, human rights activist and literary critic Marjorie Agosin, and celebrated sculptor and print artist Claes Oldenburg.