Dukes from day one, alumni for life

by Paula Polglase


group of seniors in purple cap-and-gown posing for group photoAlthough it would be reasonable to expect James Madison University’s graduating class to spend some time looking back at their years at the university, the tone of Thursday night’s Senior Convocation was decidedly future-focused.  “Your relationship with JMU as an alum can be as rewarding as it was when you were a student,” said Alumni Association President Jamie Jones Miller (’99), addressing the graduates. “Because you are Dukes from day one and you are alumni for life.  And because of that, your Madison Experience can last forever.”

The senior-only event took place Thursday evening at JMU’s Convocation Center.  The students’ purple cap-and-gown attire was their “ticket” into the event presided over by President Jonathan R. Alger.  Alger asked the graduates to reflect on the figurative meaning of the JMU tradition of holding the door open, encouraging them to think about the faculty, administrators, staff and fellow students who had held the door open for each of them over the past few years.  “With graduation upon you, what doors will you open for yourself and for others?” said Alger.  “Even as you prepare to graduate you will always be a member of the JMU family.  Our doors are always open to you.”

Some of the loudest cheers of the night came for fellow classmates: 2013 valedictorian Katherine Brown, Student Government Association President Matthew Klein and Elliott Paige who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “JMU Alma Mater.”  Student speaker Matthew Wisniewski, an engineering major from Poquoson, Va., told his fellow seniors that the days in college are usually referred to as the best of their lives.  He questioned that idea saying, “Is the best really behind us? I’m here this evening to tell you that it is not. In fact, it’s just the beginning.  Dr. Mark Warner once told me that ‘JMU should be some of the best years of your life while you’re here. And then you have to move on and find the new best years of your life.’”

The highlight of the evening was an entertaining performance by alumnus Mike Rayburn (’86) who gave a hilarious and touching presentation.  Known as the “World’s Funniest Guitar Virtuoso,” Rayburn entertained the graduates with his funny song combinations and encouraged them to live their lives by asking “What If?”  He divided his message to the students into three parts:  become a possibility thinker, set goals that don’t exist and resolve to be the best.  Rayburn said the most important motivational tool on this planet is a sense of purpose.  “Purpose is always going to be linked to service,” he said.  “When you link these two, your life will be extraordinary.”

The JMU Alumni Association sponsored a reception following the ceremony.  Students lined up to receive a free gift and to take pictures with President Alger and the Duke Dog.  Brown summed up the evening saying, “I really enjoyed Senior Convocation. The last time the Class of 2013 was in the Convocation Center was four years ago when we began our JMU journey so it's very special to be there together at the end.”


May 3, 2013

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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