When he was 23, Devin Wenig ’88 faced a difficult choice after his father’s unexpected death: Follow his career plan and join a prestigious law firm or help save the struggling biotech company his father founded.
Wenig had graduated from Union with a B.A. in political science and Columbia University Law School. He knew little about biotech or running a public company.
But he accepted the challenge, and a year after he helped stabilize the Long Island business, he resumed his career track. He also learned a valuable lesson.
“There is no one that I know that had a career plan coming out of college that ended up exactly following that plan,” Wenig told the nearly 500 members of the Class of 2015 at Union’s 221st Commencement on Hull Plaza Sunday. “You will probably not be the first. Be prepared to blaze your own trail.”
As the CEO-designate of eBay, Wenig has forged a successful career since his time on campus. He joined eBay in September 2011 after more than 18 years at Thomson Reuters, the global media organization. Currently president of eBay Marketplaces, Wenig leads the eBay, classifieds and StubHub businesses globally. He will become CEO of the new eBay company when eBay and PayPal separate into independent publicly traded companies later this year.
Under his leadership, eBay has become one of the world's top 30 brands and has grown Gross Merchandise Volume from $60.3 billion in 2011 to $83 billion in 2014. During this period, eBay added 56 million active buyers, to a total of 155 million.
He urged graduates to pursue their passion and to embrace the ample opportunities in one of the most exciting times in history.
“We are living in a world of warp-speed innovation that I couldn’t have even imagined when I was finishing college,” he said. “The challenge for this graduating class is to not accept what is, but to imagine and create what is possible.
“You will build our future. You are the ones who will wake up in the morning and think about what we should invent and create. You are the ones who will fight through the challenges and contend with the cynics and establish the world that billions of people will live and work and play and love in.”
Wenig received an honorary doctorate of laws degree.
Also receiving an honorary degree was Marjorie Agosin, the Luella LaMer Slaner Professor in Latin American Studies and professor of Spanish at Wellesley College. An award-winning poet, human rights activist and literary critic, Agosin has dedicated her life to social causes. Agosin was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters degree. She was nominated by Erika Nelson, associate professor of German.
In his charge to the graduates, President Stephen C. Ainlay cited a number of their accomplishments, both academically and in the community. This included the Empty Bowls project and Campus Kitchens, the Community Media Action Lab, and winners of Fulbrights, Watsons and other prestigious prizes.
He also applauded the class’s involvement in the “It’s On Us” campaign, a national initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
As beautiful as this place is, the campus doesn’t make Union “Union”; people make Union “Union,” and you, members of the Class of 2015, helped make Union “Union” for the past four years,” he said.
“But, now it is up to you, members of the “great” Class of 2015, to take the best of Union into the world, improving your workplaces and your communities the way you improved this campus. Come back to report, come back to share, come back to inspire the generations that follow you so that they, too, make Union, “Union.”
In his baccalaureate remarks on Saturday, Ainlay touched on the themes explored in New York Times columnist David Brooks’ recent book, “The Road to Character.” Brooks argues that too much time is spent on “resume virtues” – piling up impressive personal accomplishments – and not enough on “eulogy virtues” – traits that define the strength of one’s character.
Brooks argues that society would benefit if people recognized that their lives should be nested within a larger cause or a commonly held purpose.
Ainlay said Union is place with this larger sense of purpose.
“At Union, it’s the belief we are a community, that each of us matters, and that together we are unstoppable and that together we can do great things,” he said. “Each of us brings strengths to the table; but we are even stronger together. At Union, it’s the belief that a great education prepares you with both deep knowledge in your chosen field of study and broad knowledge of the ways in which multiple fields of study approach a problem. At Union, our common purpose is rooted in a belief that ideas matter and that they should inform our choices and our actions. At Union, it’s the belief that we study ideas to become the authors of ideas. And at Union, we believe that concern for others (whether on campus and beyond our gates), reaching out to others in times of need, and making the world a better place are top priorities.”
Student speaker Nate Greenberg of Westport, Conn., expected to graduate with the Class of 2014. But the summer before his senior year, the economics major and captain of the men’s lacrosse team was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
The campus community rallied around Greenberg, hosting a series of fundraisers and offering words of encouragement as he battled the disease. He said the support epitomized the type of place Union is.
“I watched as my friends and family fought by my side. I watched as my teammates shaved their heads in support. I watched as yellow ribbons went up all over campus and people whom I’d never met before wore my number three to let me know they were fighting for me,” Greenberg said. “This is family. This is Union. We are now a part of a family that goes back more than 200 years. Throughout my experience, Union alumni from across the country, some of whom had graduated 30 years ago or more, reached out to me to offer their support even though our only connection was Union. This speaks to the tight-knit community that Union has built.”
Three members of the Class of 2015 received public recognition: Co-valedictorians Meagan S. Jain, an anthropology major with a minor in biology from Wellesley, Mass., and Molly A. Maloney, a psychology major from Green Island, N.Y.; and salutatorian Megan E. Mancuso, a bioengineering major from Framingham, Mass.
Also, Therese McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, announced Claire Bracken, associate professor of English, as the winner of the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Bracken will be presented with the award at Convocation in the fall.