The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community


Global graduation

You could not have wished for a better Commencement this morning with temperatures in the sixties, a break from the rains, lush green lawns and magnolia blossoms at their peak, bursting to the size of salad plates. It was my first view of Wake Forest graduation exercises since a very hot day in 1982 when I marched reluctantly to the stage to receive my diploma from then-Provost Ed Wilson (’43). I wasn’t ready to leave Mother so dear, but, thank you, Wake Forest, all these years later for allowing me to return to this place I love to work on its behalf.

This Commencement, I enjoyed my vantage point from the outside stairs of Reynolda Hall facing the Quad, where I surveyed the marvelous array of grandparents juggling cameras, fathers in fine suits (one had a cigar in the lapel pocket), mothers with bouquets of yellow roses and children prancing about (one little girl turned cartwheels and bowed while President Hatch spoke).

Then, amid the sea of black robes and summer suits, other-worldly, extraordinary graduation finery caught my eye.

A Nigerian delegation in splendor

I had no trouble tracking down the group among the hundreds of spectators on the Quad. As someone who spent about a year and a half in Africa, I have a deep appreciation for the continent and its people. I wasn’t sure what country these members of the graduation audience considered home, but I couldn’t wait to meet them and find out.

They were the friends and family of graduating senior Oreofe Olutimilehin of Lagos, Nigeria. “I feel so good. I feel on top of the world,” said Oreofe’s mother, Olufunmilayo Olutimilehin. “She has done us proud. She came so young, but she has coped well.”

I’ll say. Oreofe’s mother told me her daughter is not yet 20. Her birthday is in August. Oreofe started her schooling at one year and five months of age. Now, after four years at Wake Forest, she has a B.A. with a double major in political science and international studies. She will begin the master’s program at the University of Pittsburgh this fall to study international development.

Taiwo Olutimilehin, Oreofe’s father, was pleased by today’s rite of passage for his daughter. “She’s been impacted,” he said, by her time in the United States and at Wake Forest. Added her mother, “She’s actually transformed. She can handle situations confidently and well.”

It helped that Wake Forest was not unfamiliar to the family. The mother’s cousin is Simeon Ilesanmi (JD ’05), Washington M. Wingate Professor of Religion, who teaches courses in comparative ethics, international human rights, African religions and religion and law. He wore his academic robes for Baccalaureate on Sunday, he said, but sat in African sartorial splendor with the family for Commencement.

After the ceremony, I met Oreofe.

The Olutimilehin family celebrates

She called her time at Wake Forest “a good learning experience” and named her highlights as rolling the Quad and studying abroad at Worrell House with Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78), a professor and director of the Wake Forest Scholars program. He watched his London students from the steps of Reynolda Hall beside me, proud of their accomplishments. (For him, it was the third Commencement in three days, two for his children — from Raleigh to Connecticut — and then at WFU for his Worrell House students.) Oreofe had traveled before to England, so “it wasn’t like it was a big cultural shock” to come to Wake Forest to college. But there was a singular shock: “The food. Back home there’s a lot more spice.” Eventually, as is the case for so many of us, she grew used to the Pit: “You kind of have to,” she said.

From the Pit to the Quad, all who love Wake Forest have followed those familiar paths from the pinpoint on the map we call home to that blessed stage on graduation day. Congratulations, Class of 2011.

Imagining tomorrow’s world circa 1957

In University Advancement we’re packing boxes in Reynolda Hall for our move to a building behind the law school later this month. That means most of us are sorting files, recycling papers and happening upon treasures like this June 1957 edition of “the Wake Forest Magazine” that I found in a glass case in the hallway.

Kitty Booth ('57) of Morganton jumped for joy after exams.

This bit of history includes the 1957 speech by Alumni Association President John R. Knott (’23) at the senior class breakfast on Commencement Day in which he proclaimed that seniors would be taking their place in “a fascinating yet impersonal world — a world, if you please, that invites you, that will challenge you, a world that desperately needs you.”

Knott wondered, “What will your world of tomorrow be like?”

I’ve compiled highlights from his list of prognostications:

• Every year a population equal to Maryland’s will be added to the country.

• By 1987, half the working population will be working on goods and services that today are unknown.

• Your world “will gradually emerge as a clean world, for the soot and smoke will disappear as atomic energy takes over the job now being done by coal and oil.”

• Space “will yield all of her secrets to those of you who dare to fly into the unknown.”

• Cancer will be “completely conquered. You are to witness and play a part in this achievement.”

• The human heart will be “trained to beat longer in the human body. You will help bring this about.”

• Slums will disappear, thanks to your being “the magicians” who will provide “the touch” to change the appearance of American cities.

“Your world of tomorrow will pay a premium on integrity and character,” Knott said, adding a quote from Peter Drucker: “What will be decisive above all, in the future even more than in the past, is neither education nor skill; it is integrity of character.”

In the world of tomorrow, Knott said, “sons” of Wake Forest College will be meeting each other at the corner drugstore, on the church steps, over an operating table, in a business deal and on a golf course. “They will be engaged in endeavors similar to yours — that of making the world a better and happier place in which to live … (W)henever they meet, wherever they meet, there’s a lift to the spirit, there’s a quickening of the pulse, there’s a light in the eyes, for Wake Forest men are together!”

He failed to mention the obvious fact (see 1957 magazine cover) that there were at least a few women around. The magazine noted that the West Dormitory for women would be named to honor Miss Lois Johnson, “the first and current dean of women.” Indeed, 1957 was a time of firsts, including the first Commencement for Wake Forest on the new campus.

As I observe how the Quad is being readied for Commencement all these years later, and as I prepare to say goodbye to seniors I have come to know, teach and admire, it all makes me wonder: Seniors, what will your world of tomorrow be like?

I hope there’s a lift to your spirit and light in your eyes when you meet fellow Wake Foresters (“sons” and “daughters” of WFU) in a business deal, on the church steps, at the corner drugstore and beyond, from Paris to Beijing, to the hamlets of Indonesia and to the villages of Ethiopia. I hope you change the world for the better because the world desperately needs you. (See Knott’s list of unfinished business.) Above all, may you be as happy all the days of your life as Kitty Booth, who on a spring day in 1957 leapt for joy at Wake Forest.