May 20, 2024

Commencement address: Wanda S. Ingram, E.D. ’75

Wanda S. Ingram, Ed.D. ’75
Keynote speaker
Providence College Graduate Programs and School of Continuing Education Commencement
May 17, 2024

Oh, he really got me good on that one: Icon. Oh, yes, we’ve had our share of battles, Father and I. It’s been wonderful. So good evening. I’m going to try to behave myself for a little bit. Father Sicard, executive VP Ann Molak, honored guests, members of the graduating class of 2024, faculty, parents, friends. It is truly an honor and a shock to be up here. I am so proud, and my goal is to accomplish three things: To congratulate you for your diligence, to pass on a few recommendations, and to challenge you for the future.

Can you believe this? This day is here. Congratulations once again. As everyone has said to you, we are at the end of this chapter and the start of something new. But first, let’s savor this moment and think back to what all of you have been through to get here tonight. It is time to take a breath. Goal setting can wait a few more minutes. Just take all of this in. You did it. You did it. You did it. You have done it. You’ve done it. And they can’t take that away from you. That’s the nice thing I like about it.

Okay, so who am I and how did I get here? And will I be allowed to come back? I am what is lovingly referred to as a Navy brat. My family was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, back in 1956 and we never left. So to many of you, Newport is known as the city by the sea for tourism.

It was also a large military base, and the Naval War College has been there since the 1800s. So in Newport, the majority of my male teachers and coaches and guidance counselor were Providence College graduates. So when PC went coed in 1971, let’s just say I was strongly coached by many to come to Providence College, and I am very proud that I am a member of the graduating class of 1975, along with our Executive Vice President Ann Manchester Molak.

I spent my first two years as a chemistry major and then switched to experimental psychology. I can still hear my mother commenting that I had gone from working in labs with chemicals and smelling funny to working with four-legged white critters with pink noses and long tails. I think you figured out what that was, if you get my drift. Although I enjoyed working in the research lab, helping my professor with his doctoral research on operant conditioning, by the time I graduated from PC, I realized that working with humans instead of lab rats, among others, was more interesting, and I attended a graduate program in psychological counseling.

I have worked on developmental issues of college students ever since. Every now and then I miss the critters, but not for long. But I did enjoy the imprinting of baby chicks. That was a lot of fun. I bring this up to make a point. Exposure is greatly needed to help you determine what you want to do, not necessarily for the rest of your lives, but exposure to new experiences and events help us along the way.

After graduate school, I stayed in counseling and therapy work for seven years, and then found out I could address college student developmental issues in other ways. As a dean, as a professor, with the help of my mentors. Take note. I use the word mentors plural, and I’ll get back to that in a minute.

We are all here on different stairsteps, regardless if two of you who are sitting next to one another are getting the same degree. Because all of our journeys are and always will be different. As we are on this journey, we can learn something new from one another. And as a student, never close yourself off to something new. Now, granted, you may get hit with a lot of new information and not know what to do with it, and that’s OK. What I hope you have realized is that you don’t have to be a sponge, absorbing everything all the time. As you get older, you start to realize that many of the moments, as I call them, may not hit you for days or weeks or months and years. LEARNING, and it’s all in caps, is a process that still takes time to percolate. And if you don’t know what that word percolate is, you’re too young.

So there are some major questions: Who are you and what do you want out of life? Starting with this recent accomplishment, what will be your definition for making a difference? I know that gold is considered a precious commodity, but for many of us, time is also a precious commodity, and has been given some of the experiences you have encountered. Just to be sitting in these seats, you should be giving a speech, juggling families, work, other obligations, and still making time for learning all the time, searching for balance and achievement. I applaud you all.

We have many courses here at PC, but none are going to answer all of our questions. You have all been educated in a variety of majors with core courses and electives, and in some cases, opportunities to test new theories, working as a graduate assistants and doing internships. We have four plus one students who, as far as I am concerned, also defy nature by obtaining a bachelor’s and a master’s in five years. Now that’s intensity. That’s intensity.

So a few recommendations to pass on. First of all, the three letter word, try. Otherwise you won’t know if you can add another three letters. As an educator, I have to say we want you to leave your comfort zone. It’s the only way you will grow as an individual, and everyone does that differently, whether you take another course or not.

Goal setting has and should always be a key factor in your lives. Whether you received all As, you can still fail Human Being 101.

Don’t forget where you came from.

Technology gives us so much more help, information, and assistance. Take advantage of it all and realize that no one size fits all when it comes to being successful.

With one hand, hold on to your mentors and be grateful. But extend your other hand back so you can mentor someone else. Pay it forward.

It’s on to your next adventure. That should include happy times, some coincidences, some failures, and hopefully many successes. You are here because you worked hard, learning, growing, and dreaming. Catch your breath before the next chapter begins.

Another key word: Determination. It implies a firm sensation of purpose and commitment to reaching goals or following a particular path by working hard and being flexible. That was a mouthful. Those who know me know one of my favorite words is perseverance — persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Let’s face it, hard work can lead to success, especially with the support of your friends and your family out here.

Find your purpose so you can contribute. It’s not necessarily what you achieve, but how you did it. And can you do it again?

Think back to what kind of journey it took for you to be here tonight. If it was all grins and giggles, you probably didn’t learn much. There has to be challenges, stepping outside your comfort zone, taking risks, and owning your mistakes.

Take the time to listen and not make assumptions. There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable at times. There will be certain work keywords like letdowns, setbacks, etc. that will occur. GROW, in caps again. Grow with them. Realize that every day is a new lesson. Transferable skills are the greatest of importance. There are so many key words for us during this time and some will change after tonight.

Work on weaknesses, keep strengths and help them to grow. Come up with action words for yourself to inspire challenges for the future.

It is my hope that you have found some aspects of a healthy identity as a result of your courses in SCE and the graduate school. So what’s your next journey?

As you move forward, it’s important that you know yourselves. Be clear and honest about your abilities and what you want to do next for your future with key words: satisfaction and enjoyment.

The definition of success means something different to each one of us. A degree. Financial security. New job title. Promotions. Ability to give back to others, etc.

Quoting Oprah Winfrey, “There is no such thing as failure.” Failure is just life trying to push you in another direction. And to quote, “You all have talents and skills and abilities.” So if it didn’t work the first time, try it again. When you make mistakes, work on correcting them, not obsessing over them. Become more determined, courageous, and resilient each time with responsibilities and roles that we have.

For many of us, family obligations are first and foremost. Hold on to your mentors and add to your support systems. Self-care and support equals balance and personal and professional growth. Build on what you have been taught and add to them. Don’t be a legend in your own mind. Be honest with yourself and never forget where you came from. Take the lessons that you learned and add these experiences to your toolbox.

Now, many of us in this room are more accustomed to receiving everything electronically. Tonight should also be one of those times where you truly appreciate paper. I am talking about your diplomas. It makes what you have accomplished real, tangible, and you can show it off. It’s making a statement of accomplishment. So get those frames ready and put them on display on somebody’s wall.

Once again, I say you earned this accolade. Now, with all the juggling that you’ve done to make this successful episode happen in your lives, once again, what’s next? Words like excitement, challenges, obstacles. Is there a routine you’ll go back to, now that this chapter in your lives is finished? What’s your biggest goal right now? A lot of questions.

And what makes this more interesting is that people of my generation are living longer and working longer. As a result, the work environment is affected by many different expectations. There are a variety of working and learning styles for various generations. The processing of information in the workplace by such diverse generations is why I am such a hard pusher for having mentors for work cultures, diversity, and flexibility.

We have GenZ, millennials, Gen-X, Baby Boomers, thank you very much, and even some Silent Generation members. A lot of them are active board members and owners of some of the companies we’re talking about. Finding a balance is most important, as if you haven’t had enough homework. I make this recommendation: If you are not aware of these multi-generational issues, depending upon your major, you may want to look at some of the research done by Claire Raines.

You’re going to learn a lot. Success is usually possible because of the help of others. There is a lot of work and sacrifice to be in these chairs. After gaining all this knowledge, it can be hard for some of you to decompress and switch gears, but some of you will need to, and that’s OK. Gaining new knowledge and skills we know isn’t easy. You all found a way to balance and redefine your titles. For that, I applaud your stupendous work.

Keep your PC connections. You never know when you might need some new wisdom. It may have been redundant this weekend. I may have been redundant. But some things are worth repeating. We are proud of you. We have faith in you. Go do great things. And from the former first lady, Michelle Obama. And I quote, “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.”

Congratulations, fellow friars. Bless you and thank you for listening and know what comes next. Go, Friars! Thank you.