Alumni share advice with Auburn University’s 2019 graduates

Published: May 06, 2019
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Two Auburn University alumni returned to the Plains this weekend to deliver commencement addresses to the institution’s 2019 graduating class.

Ron Sanders, a 1982 graduate and president of Theatrical Distribution and Home Entertainment at Warner Bros. Studios, spoke at three Saturday ceremonies for students in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; the College of Agriculture; the College of Architecture, Design and Construction; the College of Human Sciences; the School of Nursing; and the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business.

Sanders likened graduation to something he knows best—creating movies.

“If we look at your life like a film project, you’ve spent four years here,” he said. “So far, you’ve been in development and pre-production, and after today, you’ll have the green light to start shooting your movie. As you begin to ‘write’ your story, it’s a blank page—everything is up to you.”

Sanders said he had no idea that, on his graduation day, he would one day return to Auburn on a jet with actress Melissa McCarthy as they prepared for the premiere of her movie, “Life of the Party.”

During their flight, he shared with her a few Auburn traditions—how to use “War Eagle” at the beginning and end of every encounter and how to roll Toomer’s Corner. He said she loved the pictures he showed her of the corner after a big win.

Later that night, he saw footage on TV of McCarthy rolling Toomer’s Corner with students.

“I thought to myself, ‘How on earth did I get here?’” he recalled.

Sanders reminded the newest group of alumni that, like him, they have no idea the possibilities the future holds for them.

“As I think about how the story of my life got written, in hindsight it’s about taking the opportunities that present themselves to you,” he said. “Sometimes it’ll be risky; sometimes it won’t work out. But the journey—the story of your life—can only be written by you. If you follow your passions, you’ll end up with a story worth telling (and a life worth living).”

His final piece of advice to the graduates was to never lose the connections and friendships they formed at Auburn.

“I’m here to tell you that no matter what you do or where it takes you, you’ll never fully leave Auburn, and Auburn will never fully leave you,” he said.

Paul Jacobson, a 1994 graduate and executive vice president and chief financial officer responsible for Delta Air Lines’ global finance organization, spoke at the Sunday ceremonies for the College of Education; the College of Sciences and Mathematics; the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; and the College of Liberal Arts.

Jacobson may have left his family behind in Minnesota when he came to Auburn for a degree in aviation management, but he found a new family on the Plains—the Auburn Family.

“I hadn’t even heard my first War Eagle,” he said. ”I really didn’t know Auburn. I felt like I was in a foreign world.”

After arriving on campus and moving into his dorm, a stranger simply asked Jacobson, “How are you?” It was then that he realized Auburn was a different kind of place. It wasn’t that the man spoke to him, but that he really wasn’t a stranger.

Jacobson referred to him as a brother, family. He said he was “blessed” to join the Auburn Family.

It’s this family that grew larger as the new graduates became alumni, joining a network of more than 300,000 fellow Auburn alumni worldwide.

“An Auburn degree isn’t a magic ticket that gets you into the front of any line that you will find yourself in. It’s not a lottery ticket that ensures you can ease through life without working hard,” said Jacobson. “It is a statement and a promise that you will never be alone. You may feel alone at times in life, but you will never be alone because, you see, as an Auburn graduate, your family just got a whole lot bigger.

“You have new cousins, new brothers, new sisters, new aunts, new uncles and new grandparents that all want to see you achieve your dreams in life. That’s what an Auburn degree does for you.”

Jacobson came to Auburn with dreams of being a pilot, but he left with an Auburn degree and a new dream, one that led him to become an executive at Delta Air Lines.

He encouraged the graduates “to help make our world a better place” by offering their time and resources to Auburn and future students, “who one day will come to you for help, advice or support because that is what the Auburn Family does for each other.”

Jacobson is a staunch supporter of aviation education at Auburn. He previously served on the Aviation Management Advisory Board, and his support has been instrumental to the university’s strong partnership with Delta. He currently serves on the Harbert College of Business Advisory Board and the Auburn University Foundation Board of Directors.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.