Family, friends and faculty gathered in the Auburn Arena late Sunday afternoon to celebrate the spring commencement for both undergraduate and graduate degrees for the Raymond J. Herbert college of Business.
“This is the most important ceremony we host here at Auburn University,” said Steven Leath, president of Auburn University. “It is the symbolic closing of a very transformative chapter in your academic pursuit and the launch of a new chapter, one that holds great promise and limitless possibility.”
One of the biggest rounds of applause came when Leath asked the candidates for graduation to stand. Leath said he hoped the students recognized the applause, and then he asked the students to return the favor.
“They have worked and wished and waited for this day almost as much as you have,” Leath said. “They have come from far and wide to come and help celebrate with you today. They have encouraged you throughout the entire pursuit of your degrees.”
Leath said the University has awarded over 320,000 degrees since the founding of the institution. The Harbert College of Business awarded 676 bachelor’s degrees this spring.
Randall Ennis, 1983 Auburn graduate and CEO of World Poultry Foundation, gave the commencement address. Leath said Ennis is a true Auburn man who embodies The Creed as he has supported the University.
World Poultry Foundation is the world’s largest poultry genetics company. It serves some of the poorest countries in the world to fight poverty and world hunger.
“Other than your wedding day and the birth of your kids and maybe winning the lottery, this is one of the most memorable and important days of your lives,” Ennis said.
Looking to the crowd, Ennis added one more day to that list.
“The day that your kid finally graduates college, right?” Ennis asked. “You get the biggest increase in cost of living ever. Congratualtions.”
Ennis said he has made many mistakes in his life, but one thing he knows he will never regret is coming to Auburn. He said his time on The Plains taught him many lessons that have led to him living a successful life.
“When faced with obstacles and you get frustrated, just be patient,” Ennis said. “Allow yourself the time to make sound, rational decisions.”
Ennis said he came to Auburn thinking he would be a pre-vet student. He realized this was just the goal of his parents, but his chemistry class probably had a role to play in that realization. Over a long, frustrating process, he realized his passion was in poultry science.
“I’ll never forget the discussion with my mother,” Ennis said. “When I told her I found my calling, and I was going to pursue a degree in poultry science, she looked in the eye and solemnly asked, ‘How do you expect to make a living writing poems?’ Once I explained it was poultry science, she was relieved but not by much.”
Ennis told the graduates that in addition to having patience, they must have confidence. He said the confidence is justified as only three in 10 Americans have a college degree.
The last characteristic that Ennis told the graduates to embody was what he called “the catfish.”
He heard a story a few years back about a company that ships salmon from Alaska to southeast Asia. The company places the salmon in containers, but the fish became soft and undesirable because they remained inactive.
Someone in the company had the idea to place catfish in the containers to keep the salmon so that the catfish would nibble on the salmon and keep them moving. This solved the problem and the company could once again sell the salmon to their market.
“The point of this story is not to swim around and be disruptive or be disrespectful, but it shows the importance of asking questions and challenging the status quo,” Ennis said. “All organizations need catfish, or they become stall and unimaginative.”
Ennis said one of the most important tasks of the graduating class was figuring out how to combat world hunger.
Members of the Platform Party in attendance included University Provost Bill Hardgrave; Clark Sahlie, member of the Board of Trustees; Bobby Woodard, senior vice president for student affairs; and Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president for the office of inclusion and diversity.
Leath also recognized Grant Davis, secretary of the Board of Trustees, as he will be retiring this summer after 19 years celebrating commencement ceremonies.
Gretchen VanValkenburg, vice president for alumni affairs and 1986 graduate of the Harbert College of Business, welcomed the newest graduates into Auburn’s alumni association. She said the Auburn alumni association would be in touch shortly to provide a decal for vehicles.
“Whether you stay in The Loveliest Village on the Plains or you move across continents, there are plenty of ways to stay in touch with your University,” VanValkenburg said. “I encourage you to connect with the vast alumni network.”