A Commencement Story

Jim Amidon — Yesterday Wabash celebrated its 171st Commencement and 195 young received sheepskin diplomas from President Pat White under blue skies on the College Mall.
Some of the new graduates are going to medical, dental, and veterinary school. Many are headed to law schools. A few are headed into graduate programs in business, humanities, and social sciences.
Some got really good job offers, which is great given the state of our economy. Some chose to teach — in the amazing Teach for American program. One will be a Governor’s Fellow in Indy — after he returns from working in a refugee camp in the Middle East this summer.
There are 195 young men in the Class of 2009 who represent 195 great stories of hard work, perseverance, and accomplishment.
I wrote about a few of them last week. I could probably write a book about these guys; they make me that proud.
One story, though, begs to be told.
It’s about a father and son. Actually, it’s about a father and three sons.
In 1975, Clay Robbins matriculated to Wabash from Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis. He had been a member of the first graduating class at Perry Meridian and he entered Wabash in the first class of Lilly Scholars. He was President of Phi Gamma Delta and sang in the Glee Club. He also earned the John N. Mills Prize in the Bible at the time of his graduation from Wabash in 1979.
The religion major went to law school at Vanderbilt and returned to his home city to practice law with Baker and Daniels in the early 1980s. In 1994, he became president of Lilly Endowment Inc., which grew to become one of the world’s largest private foundations.
There is, perhaps, no foundation in the country that has invested as much in its home state as Lilly Endowment has. Under Clay’s leadership, the Endowment has invested hundreds of millions of dollars building Indiana’s foundation in churches, schools, colleges, and communities.
Wabash is, of course, quite proud of Clay’s accomplishments. And we were also proud when Clay and Amy Robbins’ oldest son, Campbell, matriculated to the College four years ago.
When second son Luke chose to come to Wabash two years later it seemed too good to be true. These bright, well-rounded young men could have gone to college anywhere, and they chose to follow in their father’s footsteps at Wabash.
And so did their younger brother, Peter, who just completed his freshman year.
On Sunday, Campbell received his diploma just as his father had 30 years ago.
But Campbell had to share the stage with his old man, which was a delight to all in attendance who know the Robbins family — and know of their humility, warmth, good humor, and deep friendships.
Before Campbell and his 194 classmates received their diplomas, the College bestowed three honorary doctorates. Clay Robbins received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Crawfordsville native and legendary Wabash wrestling coach Max Servies ’58 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, while long-time President of the University of Notre Dame, Reverend Edward “Monk” Malloy, received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
It was an especially wonderful day for Amy Robbins — her humble, yet influential husband being honored by his alma mater for his service to the state of Indiana and her first son receiving his diploma with honors. And it must be special for Clay and Amy to know they will return to the College Mall in 2011 and 2012 and be equally proud when Luke and Peter graduate.
President White captured the essence of Clay Robbins’ servant leadership when presenting Clay’s honorary degree citation:
“You have modeled the highest standards of leadership for the Endowment, and every college and university in Indiana owes a debt of gratitude to your stewardship and mentoring as you call us all to our highest imagination of what education can mean and do for our state and our nation.
“You are committed to education, community development, and leadership at a local level. You believe that, by investing in schools, churches, and programs that inspire creativity in young people, our state’s most troubling problems can be solved by Hoosiers willing to give of themselves.”
Wabash could do no better when sending its newest graduates out into the world than to lift up and honor an alumnus in Clay Robbins, who has lived a life true to the College’s mission of thinking critically, acting responsibly, leading effectively, and living humanely.
It is our sincere hope that all of our graduates will live lives of purpose and meaning, while demonstrating ethical leadership. In doing so they will make all of us at the College very proud, indeed.