‘Bend With the Road’: Life Lessons from 2019 Commencement

Happy graduates with their diplomas at the 2019 undergraduate commencement.

It is ironic that an event as deeply anticipated as Commencement seems to go by in a flash. JWU Providence’s 2019 ceremonies were no exception, and the day was filled with laughter, tears, joyous memories and the high-wattage power of unlimited potential.

Morning Ceremony: ‘Define Commitment for Yourself’
Aspirations became reality at the morning Commencement ceremony, where undergraduate students from the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Business, College of Engineering & Design, and College of Hospitality Management were the first to receive their degrees.

Student speaker Nicholas Pezza, an accomplished student-athlete and member of the Wildcat Investment Value Fund (WIVF), JWU Providence’s student-managed portfolio fund, traced how his time at JWU helped transform his definition of commitment. Prior to JWU, he said, “my understanding of the word was rudimentary; it simply meant hard work.”

"Stay true to the path you want and follow it hard."

Joining JWU’s hockey team marked the first shift. Pezza quickly learned to set aside the emotional rollercoaster of winning and losing and simply focus on the moment: “No matter what adversity we faced, the men I played with showed up with the same intensity each day because of a commitment to something greater than themselves.”

Pezza also took inspiration from JWU’s faculty, who “expanded our understanding of the word through their unwavering dedication to our development as students and individuals. Through them, I learned that commitment means selflessness and dependability.”

And finally, he found inspiration in his peers, who stayed their educational course while juggling academic and extracurricular responsibilities — often while working multiple jobs.

He concluded his speech by urging the Class of 2019 to persevere: “My fellow graduates, define commitment for yourself, and use it to tackle everything you do in life. A smart man once told me, ‘A life of commitment is a life of purpose, and a life of purpose is a life of happiness.’”

Nigel Travis '19 Hon., chairman of Dunkin’ Brands Inc., encouraged new graduates to embrace technology. He also emphasized the importance of remaining passionate about what you do: “Stay true to the path you want and follow it hard.”

Sometimes, however, there are unexpected bumps in that road. “The world is not tidy and will never be,” he told graduates. “Your road ahead, like mine, will have deviations you do not expect ... unseen battles to fight and personal and health challenges to overcome. My advice is to bend with the road, and to see every challenge as beneficial in your development. ... Do not always plan the next step or next job but focus simply on being successful today. Success will follow those who do a great job.”

"Define commitment for yourself, and use it to tackle everything you do in life."

Afternoon Ceremony: Be Instigators of Change
At JWU’s afternoon ceremony, undergraduates from the College of Culinary Arts and from the College of Hospitality Management’s Food Service Management program received their diplomas.

For student speaker Diane Saraceni, a JWU Continuing Education student graduating magna cum laude in Baking & Pastry Arts, baking started as a “passionate hobby.”

During her time at JWU, she juggled a full-time job with multiple passion projects (including serving as president of a local animal shelter). “Many people don’t realize the amount of grit that goes into this program,” she noted. “We’ve endured excruciatingly long labs in hot kitchens. We’ve made best friends with compression socks and literally gained over one million steps on our pedometers. And when our pizza dough was too sticky or our bread dough was over-proofed, we didn’t give up. We simply remembered what Chef Lumi [Cirstea] always told us: ‘Love your dough, and your dough will love you back!’”

Mehmet Gürs ’93, '19 Hon., chef and partner of the Istanbul Food & Beverage Group, and Derek Joseph Wagner ’99, '19 Hon., chef and owner of nicks on broadway, were each awarded a Doctor of Culinary Arts.

Both chefs are staunch believers in the ability of food to transform lives. Chef Gürs’ restaurant Mikla — a tribute to the richness of Anatolian cuisine — has ranked on the World’s Best Restaurant list since 2015, while Chef Wagner serves as co-chair of Chefs Collaborative, a worldwide network of chefs committed to food system advocacy.

"Food-related businesses are more and more instigators of change."

Chef Gürs’ keynote speech served as a call to action: “Our work is changing. It is not just about pushing out new dishes or serving up the coolest or best-tasting stuff anymore. Chef José Andrés has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And food-related businesses are more and more instigators of change.”

He urged graduates to be part of that change: “Not only can we make life better … but we can also make it tastier. Filled with pleasure — that is, if we choose good over bad.”

In conclusion, he urged the crowd to pause to appreciate the magnitude of their achievements: “Standing where you are today is a privilege. Being a part of this community is a privilege. Let’s be proud of it!”


A graduate celebrating.

Chancellor Runey and President Bernardo-Sousa at the ceremony.

Student speaker Nicholas Pezza.

Nigel Travis and Chancellor Runey.

Friends at commencement.

Speaker Diane Saraceni.

Derek Wagner and Chancellor Runey.

Mehmet Gurs HDR recipient.

Undergraduate student body.