Three Auburn alumni return to campus for spring commencement ceremonies

Published: May 07, 2018
Updated: May 22, 2018
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A trio of Auburn University alumni returned to campus this weekend to offer words of wisdom to the more than 4,000 new Auburn graduates as part of spring commencement exercises.

In total, the university conferred 4,027 degrees in five main ceremonies May 5-7 in Auburn Arena. Separate ceremonies will also take place on Tuesday, May 8, for Auburn’s two professional schools.

Saturday’s two services were held for the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, University College, College of Architecture, Design and Construction, the College of Human Sciences, the School of Nursing and the College of Sciences and Mathematics. The graduates heard from Susan Story, a 1981 Auburn graduate and president and CEO of American Water Works. She encouraged boldness among those graduating.

“There are times in your lives you’re going to be faced with a decision — be bold. Do the things that will give you a dream you never knew you had,” said Story.

Story was speaking from experience — a bold decision to leave a job she loved ultimately led to her being named CEO of American Water Works. She also credits the education she received at Auburn for setting her on a journey to success.

“Auburn helped me on my path,” Story said. “When I graduated, I had all kinds of opportunities because of the education that I had here. Auburn supported me, Auburn encouraged me, Auburn was my beacon and my enabler.”

Story challenged the graduates to find their purpose and passionately seek to fulfill it.

“No one else decides what your future is. That is yours. You are the only person who decides what you’re going to do, what you’re going to be. Never give anyone else that power. No one has the power to determine your future but you,” she said.

On Sunday, Randall Ennis, a 1983 graduate and CEO of World Poultry Foundation, gave the keynote remarks at ceremonies for the College of Agriculture, the College of Education, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. Ennis spent more than 30 years in the poultry industry before accepting the position of CEO of World Poultry Foundation in 2015. The nonprofit organization has a mission to solve hunger and poverty issues through the production and consumption of poultry, while empowering farmers.

Ennis recalled the first day he set foot on Auburn’s campus in the fall of 1979.

“It changed my life and prepared me for my life journey and my destiny.” Since then, his business career has taken him to more than 65 countries with him meeting some of the most brilliant and successful people in the world. “And I am convinced that none of this would have been possible without the training and preparation that I received during my years at Auburn.”

Ennis told the day’s graduates that to be a success you must first exhibit patience and a commitment to excellence. Another crucial trait, he said, is to have confidence.

“You have accomplished something that only three out of every 10 Americans have done,” he said. “You are graduating with your college degree. You committed yourself and are now walking away with your diploma in hand. To succeed in your next endeavors, you must have this same confidence.”

Ennis also challenged graduates to ask questions and challenge the status quo, adding that he has much confidence in the graduates. He said that in his line of work he’s well aware of the statistics that show that in 2018 one in nine people don’t have enough to eat.

“Feeding the world will be one of the top issues this graduating class will face,” he said. “…Your generation sometimes gets a hard rap in the press, but I firmly believe that it is your generation that will change the world.”

On Monday, Melanie Barstad, a 1975 graduate and former president of women’s health for Johnson & Johnson, spoke at the College of Liberal Arts ceremony. Barstad focused on four key truths. She spoke of how preparation meets opportunity; there is never a right time to do the wrong thing; there is no limit to what a man or woman can do if he or she does not care who gets credit; and when much is given, much is required.

“My first job at Procter & Gamble was as its first female sales rep, and I was scared to death,” said Barstad, who earned a degree in English and minor in psychology. “I have often said this was my ‘lucky break,’ but ‘luck’ is when preparedness meets opportunity.

“Your Auburn education is a gift, no matter how hard you worked to get it, and you are a gift to the world. The world needs you. There are issues you can work on, issues you can solve and people you can impact.”