A Salute to Seniors

Each spring, I facilitate a small non-credit five week seminar for student leaders entitled “Senior Reflections.” The purpose of the seminar is to offer students a chance to discuss their experiences at the University of Miami and to reflect upon what lies ahead after the “U.”

One of the exercises encourages students to take a “Final Walk” around campus before graduation – alone, at sunset – and to reflect upon what UM has meant to them: how their faculty, friends, family and experiences have molded them; how they have contributed to UM; and how they have changed since arriving here. In view of the fact that there are less than 20 days until graduation, I want to encourage each senior to take that same Final Walk and to reflect upon your time at the university.

To refresh your memory just a bit, your senior class has enjoyed an unprecedented experience, beginning with the incredible hosting of the first presidential debate in 2004 when you were freshmen. Just recently, UM concluded its greatest fund-raising drive in history, an achievement that will pay huge dividends for years to come. During your tenure, UM has recruited world-class scientists and doctors to the medical school, appointed an almost entirely new group of deans and executive leaders, and continued to raise admission standards.

Your class exerted wisdom and leadership by approving a referendum for a new Student Activities Center which will provide untold advantages for future generations of students. You witnessed – albeit much delayed – the opening of new student housing at the University Village, the first in 40 years. You endured three hurricanes in one semester – the most ever – and last fall, you experienced our final game in the historic Orange Bowl, the home of our five-time national champion Miami Hurricanes. You were among the first to attend events in the BankUnited Center and you will be the first alumni group to attend games in Dolphin Stadium.

During the last four years, you have made great strides in student governance, leadership and the addition of a multitude of student organizations, such as the award-winning Model United Nations Team. Student media has been enhanced and awards have been received for your work with the IBIS Yearbook, Miami Hurricane, and UMTV. You have enjoyed performances by talented classmates and faculty from our renowned Frost School of Music, and gave standing ovations to fellow students at sold out shows in the Ring Theater time and time again.

You have contributed to the greater Miami community by volunteering thousands of hours to help others, whether it was by tutoring young students throughout the county, building homes in Habitat for Humanity projects, visiting the elderly or by using your new-found academic skills, like architecture students who spent an entire semester helping to create plans for revitalizing Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove. Regrettably, there were somber moments, too, when you shared grief with students from our sister ACC University, Virginia Tech and experienced several deaths of students here.

Nearly every senior has, at one time or another, spent alternative spring break helping others in storm-ravaged areas throughout the country, enjoyed academic internships and research opportunities, studied abroad, or benefited from small, intense classes with talented faculty. You have been witness to an incredible array of speakers and programs on campus including, you will remember, former President Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Chief Justice Roberts, Tim Russert, the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates debates sponsored by Univision, Ben Stein, and Anderson Cooper, to name only a few.

The University of Miami is a special place, from our location in a multi-national city to our beautiful, diverse campus. We are not perfect. We are still young in the history of higher education, but the incredible leadership of President Shalala and the commitment of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends ensure that the future will be bright and exciting. We want you to share in that future by becoming actively engaged alumni.

Thank you for entrusting us with your education. We will be forever indebted that our paths crossed. You have made UM better and we hope that we have challenged you to grow intellectually, emotionally, personally and spiritually in ways that you never believed would be possible.

Enjoy your Final Walk! GO CANES!

Patricia A. Whitely is the vice president for Student Affairs at the University of Miami. She may be contacted at pwhitely@miami.edu.