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Zeppos offers ‘eight words’ of advice in farewell Commencement address

by May. 10, 2019, 12:47 PM

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos encouraged graduates at Vanderbilt Commencement to be the brave leaders that America and the world desperately needs—leaders who focus on making the world better for others, not just themselves.

“Such service is what we have prepared you for at Vanderbilt,” Zeppos said. “Your education here is a multiplier, equipping you to amplify the effects of your good work and send its ripples of influence further into the world to touch more people.”

During his 12th and final Commencement address, Zeppos spoke to more than 3,800 graduating students, their families, faculty, staff and alumni on Alumni Lawn.

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos addresses the Class of 2019 in his final Commencement as chancellor on May 10, 2019. (Joe
Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos addressed the Class of 2019 in his final Commencement as chancellor on May 10. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

The chancellor offered three pieces of advice—captured in eight words—to guide the graduates throughout their lives: “homework never stops,” “take responsibility,” and “think of ‘we.’”

Zeppos acknowledged that the idea of always having to do homework might sound like bad news, but graduates must be prepared for a variety of challenges throughout their lives. “People really are not interested in your ideas and opinions unless you’ve done your homework,” he said. “In fact, sometimes in my meetings, I’ll say if you didn’t read the materials, maybe you should just listen. Do your homework. You’ve got a running start, thanks to the hard work you’ve done at this demanding university. But your Vanderbilt education is just the beginning of your learning and doing your ‘homework.’”

“Such service is what we have prepared you for at Vanderbilt. Your education here is a multiplier, equipping you to amplify the effects of your good work and send its ripples of influence further into the world to touch more people.”
–Nicholas S. Zeppos

The chancellor noted that a Vanderbilt education prepares students to take responsibility for what needs to be done in their family, their career, their community and beyond. “One thing that distinguishes good leaders—and I would say good colleagues, good friends, good people—is the habit of being accountable, acknowledging one’s missteps, learning from them and drawing from the experience to do better.”

Zeppos’ third piece of advice was to evolve from a “me” mindset to a “we” mindset. He told the graduates that most of them have had a strong team of supporters, including family members, mentors and professors, which he compared to a NASCAR pit crew. “Your focus, rightly so, has been about ‘me,’” he said. “And starting today, you’ll see a pivot to ‘we.’ You’ll begin using all that love, help and education you’ve been given to support, nourish and care for other people.”

Prior to the chancellor’s remarks, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente presented ­­­­­­­25 retiring members of the faculty who have attained emeriti status. She then introduced Bruce R. Evans, chairman of the Board of Trust, who paid tribute to the leadership and vision of Zeppos, the university’s eighth chancellor. “From his early days as a law professor, to his success as our provost and then chancellor, he has made his mark by always putting students—and the importance of their education—above all else,” said Evans. “In doing so, he has built a foundation that will persist long after he steps down on Aug. 15.” Evans announced that the Board of Trust has approved Zeppos’ appointment as chancellor emeritus, effective Aug. 15.

Zeppos, who received a standing ovation, thanked Evans and said that he was proud to be recognized alongside the professors emeriti. The chancellor then recognized several individuals who have provided dedicated service throughout the university: Board of Trust members, faculty, Alumni Association President Dan Lovinger, and members of the Class of 1969, the 50th reunion class. The chancellor said that these alumni exemplify the true meaning of pioneering and “Vanderbilt for Life.”

The Founder’s Medals, a historic tradition that has distinguished Vanderbilt’s Commencements for 141 years, were presented to the top scholars in each of the university’s 10 schools and colleges by Wente.

Following the chancellor’s address, there was a solo musical performance by Hiram Sebastian Rodriguez, a junior in the Blair School of Music. Then the deans of the various schools and colleges presented their candidates for conferral of their degrees by the chancellor.

In closing, the chancellor noted that the true measure of a great university is what its alumni do in the wider world. “As you take this next step toward your bright, exciting future, go forth, with all of your heart. Use your education to lift up our world and to benefit humankind,” he said.

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