Charlotte Commencement: Reflections on a Profound Journey

Officiating his first Commencement ceremony, Charlotte Campus President Richard Mathieu spoke with pride and emotion as he addressed the graduates: “Today we celebrate your achievements. The world today is a different place than it was at the beginning of your academic journey. It is complex and ever-evolving. It requires resolve and determination. Simply stated, it requires a Wildcat grit.”

“The Charlotte Campus represents nearly 1,140 students from 13 countries and 46 states and territories,” Mathieu continued. “Today we are recognizing students from the United States, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — all represented by these beautiful flags behind us. Each of you have contributed to our diverse and vibrant community and we celebrate you.”

“You only live once but it is up to you to decide to wake up every morning and give it 110%.”

Charlotte student speaker Jay McCollar '23

‘Give It 110%’

Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship major Jay McCollar '23 opened his speech with one of the biggest questions possible: “Graduates, this afternoon I would like to ask you a very simple question. Wildcats, Who are you? Maybe that wasn’t as simple of a question as I made it out to be, because for the past four years I have spent every waking moment trying to answer it.”

McCollar began his time at JWU determined to make the absolute most of it: “We were the class that ran through roadblocks like NFL linebackers. Switching from trimesters to semesters? Easy. Practicals? Done, we got this. 3-page paper due at 11:59? I got time. It’s only 10:30!”

In the blink of an eye, the pandemic ground that momentum to a halt. “I remember walking out of my dorm, eyes glued to that email in awe. Neighbors emerging from their own all with the same thought ‘What now?’ … My floor came together and we did what we knew best: We cooked. We reached out to anyone still on campus and cooked up every bit of food we stockpiled in the 4th floor kitchen. Ramen, Goldfish, Capri Suns, you know — your typical pandemic survival kit. And we laughed, cried, smiled together one last time in the hallways that granted us freedom.”

Through it all, McCollar upheld his personal motto, In Omnia Paratus (“for those who didn’t watch ‘Gilmore Girls,’ it’s basically YOLO in Latin,” he joked) to wring every ounce of experience out of his classes, virtual or not: “Going home was just another roadblock, but far from the end of the road. While the world stopped spinning, we spent our mornings on Zoom meetings in our bedrooms.”

“Lastly, I want you to tell the world one thing that will never change: ‘We are Wildcats.’ Give yourself a round of applause.”

He reminded his hard-working peers that Commencement is a time to savor and reflect upon an intense time of hard work and significant accomplishments: “You only live once but it is up to you to decide to wake up every morning and give it 110%, because right here, right now we sit at a mountaintop and there are many more to climb — but today we get to sit and enjoy the view.”

He concluded by circling back to his opening question: “So I ask you again, who are you? For every person in this room the answer is different, but I can help with two points,” he said. “Graduates, I want you to turn to your neighbor and repeat after me: ‘You did it.’ Now look to the opposite side and remind them: ‘You are strong.’ Lastly, I want you to tell the world one thing that will never change: ‘We are Wildcats.’ Give yourself a round of applause. How is the view from the mountaintop? The world awaits you.”

Charlotte Commencement Speaker David Burke '23 Hon.

‘Be a Student of Your Craft Forever’

Renowned chef, restaurateur and entrepreneur David Burke ’23 Hon. spoke with authority when he told the assembled Charlotte graduates, “Don’t rely on the competition to be competitive — compete with yourself! Take risks, take chances, be daring. Be unique.”

“When you love what you do, it never feels like work at all.”

Burke has made a name for his wildly creative and sometimes whimsical cooking style. To grads, he emphasized the need to assess our strengths and really own them. He stressed that passion should guide one’s career decisions, but to make sure not to ignore the fundamentals: “Like a great architect, you have a solid base,” he explained. “The boring stuff is sometimes important. … Hit singles and doubles for a while before going for the home run.”

He extolled the value of taking calculated risks: “Sometimes the greatest rewards come from stepping outside your comfort zone. Cook! Dream! Direct! Coach! Create! Share! Show off! Teach what you know! Give! AND GIVE IT ALL!” (Back to Jay’s 110%.) He asked the new grads to “be a student of your craft forever.” As he put it, “When you love what you do, it never feels like work at all.”

He concluded with a truism: “And remember that, no matter where your journey takes you, the lessons you’ve learned at Johnson & Wales will stay with you for a lifetime.”

Watch the ceremony in full below:

Charlotte Campus President Mathieu speaking to the Commencement crowd.

JWU Charlotte Pride Student Union President and two other grads.

A quartet of happy graduates at Charlotte Commencement.

Charlotte alumni speaker Lei Cristine Garcia '10

Mortarboard decorated with the phrase, “It’s all about the mise en place.”