‘Go Change the World’: Highlights from Commencement 2016

A new JWU Providence grad cheers at Commencement.

Saturday, May 21, was an important day for Wildcats across all four of Johnson & Wales University’s campuses — almost 3,000 undergraduate degrees were awarded during JWU’s 2016 Commencement ceremonies.

On the Providence campus alone, 1,831 degrees were awarded during two ceremonies at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown.

Morning Ceremony: “Go Out and Change the World”
Students from the John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences, School of Business, School of Engineering & Design, and School of Hospitality were the first to receive their degrees in JWU Providence’s morning ceremony.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza delivered greetings on behalf of the city. “We need our talented, our committed, and our brightest to go out and change the world,” he said.

“Time and again, you exhibited those intangible tenets of a Johnson & Wales University experience — pride, character, courage, community,” Chancellor John Bowen '77 told the assembled students. “That will make you a valuable and productive citizen and a leader in your chosen fields of employment.”

In addition to a video message from Providence Campus President Mim Runey, attendees heard from student speaker Jasmine Turner '16, who shared the advice she would have given her freshman-year self — from JWU Providence-centric tips to reminding herself to take a minute to reflect on the little things that made her time on campus so memorable.

Alumni speaker Tobey Sanborn '97 reminded students to “stay connected, come back and visit,” and that the “six degrees of Johnson & Wales separation” is very real, referring to JWU’s extensive alumni network.

Honorary degrees were awarded to William J. Murphy, partner at Murphy & Fay LLP and member of Johnson & Wales University's Board of Trustees, and Rajendra S. Sisodia, co-founder and co-chairman of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.

Sisodia also delivered the first ceremony’s commencement address.

“Leadership is more important in the world than ever before, and the difference between good leadership and bad leadership is profound," he said. “Better leaders make for a better world. When you become a leader at any level, always keep in mind that the way you lead impacts the way people live.”

Afternoon Ceremony: “Look to the Future”
In the afternoon, Deans Peter Lehmuller, EdD; Paul McVety '09 EdD; Cynthia L. Parker, EdD, and the faculty of the College of Culinary Arts and the School of Hospitality proudly presented their Classes of 2016.

“There are no limits to what you can do — just look at those who have come before you,” Chancellor Bowen told the crowd. “Leave here today with that same confidence and courage. Determine where that road will take you.”

Student speaker Alexandra Terra '16 encouraged her fellow grads to look around and “see the phenomenal pool of talent that you travel with into your future. These are the people who know you and will be there for you.”

Delsie Catering’s owner and creative director Pearl Farquharson '12 emphasized the amazing skillset that a JWU education fosters: “Think of your many achievements, the skills gained. This is a great university. Walk proud.”

Providence Journal food editor Gail Ciampa wrote of Champe Speidel '00, '16 Hon.: “He is doing his best to claim the title of Rhode Island’s most talented chef.”

But the acclaimed chef-owner of Persimmon — a James Beard-nominated restaurant that recently relocated from Bristol, RI, to Providence’s East Side — didn’t even attend his own JWU graduation: “I was working,” he confessed at the start of his Commencement speech.

While admitting that cooking requires commitment and sacrifice, Speidel was quick to emphasize how much the industry is changing for the better:

“Today you can enjoy an industry that is admired for the creativity and effort put forth. Diners want to know you and what your inspiration behind these dishes is. This is still a tough industry. ... But it can be very rewarding if you have the stamina and strength to push through the tough times.”

Speidel told graduates to hold onto their passion, to find a partner and develop a plan — “the three P’s!”

“Without passion for your work then your work is merely a job.

“Partners come in many forms. Friends, family, yes, but how about colleagues? Neighbors? Guests? Former chefs and instructors? All of them are partners in one way or another. And their support means everything.

“Everything you do from here on out needs to have a plan. Make those goals now, make them realistic and make a sensible plan to achieve them.”

In conclusion, he told the new alums to “break out the champagne and enjoy the moment! Congrats, Class of 2016!”


Chancellor John Bowen '77 and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza who delivered greetings on behalf of the city.

Students cheering and smiling after ceremony.

Students showing off the tops of their decorated commencement caps.

Procession of flags: students carry flags from countries that our graduates represent.

Chancellor John Bowen '77