Regan O’Donnell (’21), Undergraduate Diploma Ceremony speech

To my fellow 2021 graduates, congratulations. Four years together and our time to celebrate has come. Thank you all for being here to share this excellent milestone together. I first want to acknowledge that our academic success is not just the product of our individual efforts, but our legacy that we leave behind in our classrooms — one that is a direct outcome of the support and commitment of numerous people that are here today. Thank you to our faculty who are not only dedicated to teaching, but who have opened up their hearts and shared their passions with us. Thank you to our family, friends and mentors who have guided us along the way. Your love, advice and encouragement have made it possible for the members of the class of 2021 to stand here today. While I wish I was looking out at our entire class, I’m honored to be joined by fellow STEM graduates.

I was first introduced to science and technology from my aunt Shawn, who was one of the original employees of Google. When I was in high school, she gave me life-changing advice — study the sciences, be an engineer, master mathematics — for those are the foundations of the modern age. I’ve now come to understand why STEM is at the core of innovation in our lifetime alone. We’ve witnessed some of the greatest and most rapid advancements in technology. We’ve seen how innovations in healthcare have lengthened our lifespans and improved our quality of living. We’ve lived through a global pandemic that’s challenged and altered how we respond, adapt, and innovate. We’ve witnessed how infrastructure has allowed for global connectivity. We’ve seen science directly applied to flight global climate change.

When I look out at my fellow graduates here today, I’m very proud to be joined by such intelligent and high-achieving individuals. Among us are coders who are developing technology for high-performance computing; military lieutenants who will use their unique engineering skills to help our country improve and navigate our increasingly global landscape; researchers who are working to develop artificial tissues and organs; chemists who are studying the structure of novel drugs; and athletes who are among some of the only undergraduate students in the country in human cadaver labs.

Yet what sets Wake Forest students apart is the integration of the liberal arts education and the emphasis that our teachers instill on character. Both are embedded into every corner of our four years here. I’ve heard many times as an engineering student that our purpose is to strive to become the whole engineer — someone who is both technically capable, but is also a leader, an ethical citizen, and a critical thinker. Martin Luther King Jr. said intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education. Wake Forest is embodied with students who are just that — the Pro Humanitate mindset, acting for humanity. And as I reflect on my experience at Wake Forest, I’m grateful that this perspective and approach was taught and nurtured through my relationships and inner connections with the faculty, staff and students.

As we close this chapter of our undergraduate education, we know this is just the beginning. Right now in this coliseum, our future doctors, dentists, engineers, entrepreneurs, researchers, industry leaders, and individuals who will change our world. Our education here at Wake Forest has no doubt been an incredible gift, but now we have a responsibility to apply ourselves in the workforce and create the next innovations in our field. The best way that we can honor those celebrating here with us today is to continue to improve our communities and use the foundations that we’ve built to become versatile leaders, all the while staying true to our character. I wish you all the very best. And I know that together we will have a front row seat witnessing our futures thrive in ways that we can only imagine as we end our time here today.