Embracing Epic Journeys at JWU Providence Commencement

During her undergraduate Commencement address on Saturday, Hotel & Lodging Management major America Mason '22 summed up the unique challenges faced by the Class of 2022 as “the Mile 19 principle.” During the long days of lockdown, she and her mother started walking — “we called it our annual epic walk, averaging 30 miles.”

“Class of 2022, I applaud you for your perseverance!”

Blisters aside, these long walks gave her valuable insight into what it takes to persevere, both as a student and in life: “Most of us can walk a long way. If we’re with someone, we talk, we laugh, and the miles quickly mount up behind us. It’s similar to starting out as a freshman. You’re excited. You meet new people and together you begin a new journey.”

“Mile 19” is the point (real or metaphorical) where you start to feel the strain of the journey. As Mason put it, “Maybe your mile 19 was the day you got sent home from campus. Maybe it was when you had another Zoom class and your head was already pounding. Maybe your mile 19 was losing a loved one and overcoming devastating grief. Maybe it was the economic hit many of us experienced as businesses shut down. It was in these moments that we had to choose: Call defeat, or persevere?”

All of us have these crossroads in our lives, and it is how we face them that transforms us into the people we will become. “Athletic coaches talk about endurance; the physical stamina to keep going when things get hard,” Mason continued. “But perseverance is a conscious choice to keep going though difficulty arises. You aren’t just enduring the hardship, you’re actively looking it in the face and saying, “Bring it on! As we sit here, graduates of the class of 2022, I applaud you for your perseverance! We all have a mile 19.”

For College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT) speaker Esmeralda Bencosme '22, the pandemic induced a similar realization. Upon arriving at JWU in 2018, she struggled to balance academics with, well, everything. And just as she began to find her own equilibrium, the pandemic arrived and cut short her progress. “We all said and hoped, ‘it’s fine; this thing will last a week,’ and just like that, we were gone for the rest of the year.”

But that pandemic year gave her the distance and time to reflect on her own goals and priorities: “Johnson & Wales, and being here with you all, has helped ME to change. Not only did my academic work improve, but I improved. I became a version of myself that I grew to love. I found passion, strength, and integrity to keep going.”

Bencosme saw similar growth in her peers — a silver lining to the pandemic’s dark clouds: “In the years we have spent as Wildcats, we have watched the world change before our eyes. Nevertheless, together, in the face of so much hate and negativity, our generation has used this pandemic to find our voice. We use our voice to spread kindness, not hate. We stand up for what is right.”

G Adventures founder, innovator and “Do Big Small Things” author Bruce Poon Tip '22 Hon. addressed the graduates by first admitting that “the world that you are inheriting is not the same as the one that a lot of us in my generation grew up in. We have a climate crisis. We have so much division and conflict. We don’t have a unified understanding of what is truth, and a trust in science. So my generation didn’t do a great job leaving you a world that is better than the one we inherited.”

“You are the innovation generation. You can’t see obstacles or problems. You can only see solutions and embrace change.”

But, like Bencosme, he predicted opportunities for the turmoil of the present to spark a groundswell of positive change: “It’s your generation that will have to be the phoenix that rises from the ashes and does everything different. You are the innovation generation. You can’t see obstacles or problems. You can only see solutions and embrace change.”

Poon Tip urged the Class of 2022 to travel — and really see the world. “Be an explorer, not a tourist,” he explained. “Leave your communities where you are most comfortable with an open heart and I promise you that you will come back a better person, a more connected global citizen, and a better leader.”

Geoffrey Sosa Lanez CEC '12, '14 MBA, executive chef of The Patterson Club, evoked that sense of community in his alumni address: “New adventures await you. You are now part of a vast network of graduates who share a core Johnson & Wales experience and who have gone on to work in an impressive array of professions, many spanning the globe. I hope that, like so many others, you remain an active part of this community.”

Speaking virtually from Hestan Vinyeards in Yountville, California, Hestan Commercial founder/owner Stanley K. Cheng '22 Hon. concluded the 2022 ceremony on an upbeat note: “The greatest single ingredient to achieve success is one has to be hungry. I was hungry and still am! As you embark on your culinary ventures, I know success awaits you as long as you stay hungry and willing to work hard.”



Undergraduate degrees listed include the College of Professional Studies. Includes Summer 2021, Fall 2021 and expected Spring 2022 graduates.

  • A.S. Degrees: 418
  • B.A. Degrees: 18
  • B.S. Degrees: 1,203
  • B.S.B.A. Degrees: 113

Family group with grad at JWU Providence afternoon Commencement.

Family portrait with JWU bling (mortarboard and matching necklace in JWU colors).

Chancellor Runey and Providence Campus President Bernardo-Sousa lead the processional during Commencement.

CFIT student speaker Esmeralda Bencosme

Bruce Poon Tip '22 Hon. receives his academic regalia.

JWU Providence student speaker America Mason '22, College of Hospitality Management.

Stage view as a new grad accepts his diploma (and a handshake).

CFIT alumni speaker Geoffrey Sosa Lanez CEC '12, '14 MBA

Lawrence Rock '96, alumni speaker

A big hug between two newly-minted graduates.

Decorated mortarboard that reads, “Hotter by One Degree, 2022.”