Hope – and reality – spring eternal

April at The Woods!

The month when the entire school year culminates in a flurry of activity, including Alumni Weekend, the spring meeting of the WWU Board of Trustees, final exams, the campus grounds turning a lovely shade of William Woods green, and of course the biggest event each year on campus, commencement. It is a terribly exciting and hectic time, along with a touch of wistfulness as we say goodbye to our graduates who have made William Woods their home over these past few years.

We have been fortunate over time to hear a variety of unique perspectives from our commencement speakers. We’ve had actors, authors, talk show hosts, singers, executives, a U.S. Senator and even a future U.S. President send our graduates off into the real world with their words of wisdom.

And as wonderfully optimistic commencement day can be for our graduates and their families, as they look forward to the bright futures literally laid out right in front of them, a dose of reality about the real world challenges they will also face on their life’s journey is appropriate as well. Life will not always be sunshine and rainbows for our freshly minted William Woods alumni, and that message must always co-exist with its optimistic twin that says “anything is possible!”

This is but one of the reasons I love our 2019 undergraduate ceremony commencement speaker. I was first introduced to Ryan by our Board of Trustees member Wendy Powell, who was fortunate to witness one of his video presentations, sent her recommendation to me, and the rest is history.

Ryan Leaf once had it all. At age 21, he was the second overall pick in the NFL Draft (behind only the great Peyton Manning). A hotshot rookie quarterback who was famous and wealthy, he was living the dream countless millions of young men would die for. But the unforgiving nature of the NFL, brutal pressure, injuries, substance abuse and mental illness conspired to cause him to flame out within four years, earning him the derisive label of “bust.”. Struggling to cope in the real world, he succumbed to his demons and ended up going to prison for nearly three years.

But Ryan Leaf slowly and surely emerged from his abyss, and rebuilt his life. Today he is a successful advocate for mental health and substance abuse treatment, reaching young people across the country by telling his story. He has dedicated his life to service to others, and turned his personal trials into hope for those with little hope. His story of redemption and perseverance in the face of darkness will serve as a powerful message to our graduates that while life will not always be positive, you can overcome even the stiffest of challenges. You are sure to get knocked down more than once, like the proverbial NFL quarterback, but what is most important is how quickly you get back up.

I look forward to hearing Ryan’s story in person. It will be a great graduation day all around, as one of our own – Sarah Wisdom ’04, Superintendent of the New Bloomfield (Mo.) School District – will deliver what promises to be an uplifting address at our graduate commencement. If you can be on campus on Saturday, April 27 for these ceremonies, it would be worth your while.

I hope everyone has a great month of April. Happy Spring!

Dr. Jahnae Barnett