Rogers to impart life lessons, say goodbye in graduation speech

Brianna Sheen

University President Jesse Rogers delivers the closing remarks at Midwestern State University graduation, May 10, 2014. As the speaker at graduation this spring, Rogers will have attended 75 MSU graduations. Photo by Ethan Metcalf
University President Jesse Rogers delivers the closing remarks at Midwestern State University graduation, May 10, 2014. As the speaker at graduation this spring, Rogers will have attended 75 MSU graduations. Photo by Ethan Metcalf

While seniors are scrambling to order their cap and gown, apply for jobs and study for the last final exams they may ever take, there is another person working behind the scenes to make their graduation memorable. It just so happens to be his last year at MSU, too.

Jesse Rogers, university president, will retire in August after 48 years at MSU. He will deliver the commencement address at graduation May 16 as one of his final university engagements,

Rogers meets with a committee every year to pick the commencement speaker, but this year he made the request to do the speech himself.

“I sort of invited myself,” Rogers said. “This year they couldn’t turn me down because I said ‘I wanted to do it, this is my last one.'”

Rogers said he will use this as an opportunity to say farewell to MSU but didn’t want that to be the only theme of his speech.

“I wanted one opportunity to, in a way, say goodbye, except that’s not exactly what I’m going to do,” Rogers said. “What struck me is I’m bound to have learned something. It may be something other people have learned already but I’m bound to have learned something about life and I’m bound to have learned something about myself. I think maybe if I don’t speak too long and I talk about some of those things that I have learned about the important things in life, people will listen and maybe they will think about it at times.”

Students can expect to hear that life isn’t perfect, and neither are people.

“When I was a really young person, I thought there were going to be some times in my life that were going to be absolutely wonderful, that I would have everything in order, that I would be absolutely happy,” Rogers said. “I’ve lived to be 74 years old and that’s never happened. There’s never been a time that I haven’t been facing something that I didn’t want to deal with or that I had to do or something that wasn’t going right and you finally just learn that that is life. The things that really I enjoy most are the simplest things in my life.”

Rogers added that he might even mention some of the mistakes he’s made in effort to show nobody is perfect.

“I don’t know anyone who would tell you they made all good, controlled, wise, non-frivolous decisions in their life,” Rogers said. “There’s not perfect people. What I’m going to talk about is what I’ve learned that I think is important for students to remember who are graduating as they walk away from here. Have some pride in Midwestern State University.”

Rogers said he’ll try and keep his speech concise to not interfere with the flow of graduation.

“I will promise you one thing, that this speech will be about five minutes long because I believe the students and the families that are there want to get on with commencement and see their sons and daughters and granddaughters graduate,” Rogers said.

If there’s one thing students can rule out from their expectations, it’s a few jokes.

“When I speak, I don’t do well at humor. It’s not going to be terribly serious because that’s just not me but I’m not going to tell a joke.”

Although this will be Rogers’ final graduation as university president, it’s definitely not his first. Once he finds out the official number of graduations he’s been to, Rogers said he may include it in his speech.

“I have the registrar checking to see how many I’ve been to,” Rogers said. “It’s not just 48 because the first few years I was here the Coliseum was large enough to hold everybody. Then we decided we couldn’t seat everyone so we went to two commencements on the same day. Then we went to two a year. So I have been to many more than 48 commencements.”

Rogers said even though he’s not nervous about speaking at graduation, he hasn’t always been so confident.

“When I had to give my first seminar at graduate school, I was so nervous I had to walk around the block 20 times just to calm myself dow,” Rogers said. “One thing that I’ve really gotten to accustomed to is speaking. That just takes practice and time.”

Rogers added the only part he is really nervous about is finally getting all his thoughts down on paper. Rogers said he’ll have his wife, a former English professor, edit it when he’s done, since he’s not very computer savvy.


  • Spring 2008 — Glen Veteto, actor, and Lynwood Givens, Raytheon Corporation
  • Fall 2009 — Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Spring 2010 — Dan Branch, Texas state representative
  • Fall 2010 — James R. Wilburn, inaugural dean of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University and professor of strategy in Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management
  • Fall 2011 — Michael A. Pepper, president of Alcoa Power and Propulsion
  • Spring 2012 —  Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general
  • Fall 2012 — MacGregor M. Stephenson, assistant commissioner for academic affairs and research for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
  • Spring 2013 — Ben Carson, neurosurgeon
  • Fall 2013 — Stacia L. Haynie, J.W. Annison Jr. Family Alumni Professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • Spring 2014 — Kel Seliger, Texas state senator
  • Fall 2014 — Beck Weathers, author Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest
  • Spring 2015 — Jesse Rogers, retiring president, Midwestern State University