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2019 Commencement speaker looks back on fond memories of Westminster

  • Engels Tejeda, Westminster College alumni and the 2019 commencement speaker, with his student government advisor and former Dean of Students Mark Ferne. Tejeda said the liberal arts education he received from Westminster prepared him to think critically, view problems from a broad perspective, handle a diverse work environment and care about the communities he was a part of. (Photo courtesy Engels Tejada)

The 2019 commencement speaker will be Engels Tejada, a Westminster Alumni who graduate in 2003, U.S. Army Reserve Veteran and trial attorney.

This years commencement ceremony will take place at the Maverik Center on May 11, and at the ceremony, Tejeda will receive an honorary Master of Arts in Community Leadership degree, according to a Westminster College press release.

Tejada was selected as the speaker through a process involving the Board of Trustees, President’s Cabinet and Faculty Senate.

“Mr. Tejada exemplifies the ethical and engaged leadership of our alumni,” said Beth Dobkin, Westminster president in the college’s press release. “He’s a great role model and inspiration for our students.”

During his time at Westminster, Tejada served as student body president from 2002-2003, received the President’s Leadership Award in 2003 and wrote for The Forum.

“[Working for The Forum] was pretty amazing and really interesting,” Tejada said. “I remember those days very fondly and its actually what got me interested in student government, which eventually led me to law school.”

The Forum talked with Tejada about his years at Westminster and what it was like to become the commencement speaker. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: When did you graduate and what was your major at Westminster?

A: I graduated in 2003 and I was an [economics] major.

Q: How did your experience at Westminster prepare you for where you are today?

A: The liberal arts education at Westminster prepared me to think critically and to view problems from a broad perspective. It prepared me to handle a diverse work environment and basically to care about the communities that I was apart of.

Q: What was your favorite part of your time at Westminster?

A: I lived on campus during my entire time at Westminster and that was a very awesome experience, so I would say living on campus is probably my favorite part about my experience their.

Q: What was your least favorite part of your time at Westminster?

A: I kind of rushed through school and graduated in two-and-a-half years essentially. The one thing I would change, if I could go back, is that I would take longer. I came into Westminster with a few credits from high school and I think that what I would do differently is to take longer, and maybe do a double-major. You get to a point where you start reflecting back on things that you always wanted to do or wish you had taken longer to accomplish at certain stages in life. I would go back and take longer at Westminster to savor the experience.

Q: What was the process to becoming a commencement speaker like?

A: I went to lunch with President Dobkin to talk about her goals and vision for the college. During that conversation, she let me know she was still looking for her first commencement speaker and asked if I would interested in speaking. I thought by that she meant one of many commencement speakers, but I didn’t realize she meant the commencement speaker until she sent me the official invitation.

It was a very organic conversation between us, we talked past the one hour lunch that we were supposed to have and we had a lot of similar visions for the college and what higher education can do for folks. In my mind, higher education is the most transformative [experience] for folks in American institutions. We talked about that and her experiences and my experiences.

Q: What do you want the graduating class and the audience to take away from your speech?

A: Moments like this allow people to reflect on their accomplishments, so I definitely want to commend [the graduating class] on that. It also allows the graduates to reflect on all of the other people that helped them get their, so it’s important to express gratitude to the families, teachers, colleagues, mentors and everyone involved. It’s important to contemplate where to go next, and wonder ‘what can you do with the degree, education and training you’ve received?’, ‘what can you do to make your workplace better and maximize your potential.’

Hopefully I can talk about that and the resources that we have to do that. I think the most important resource that we all have is our own stories. I want to talk about my story and my own experiences, but that will probably be a smaller portion of the whole speech. It will be focused on the students.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts?

A: I think it’s an exciting time to graduate and enter the [job] marketplace. I’m really excited to see what the students graduating this year will do with the education they received at Westminster. I think they are uniquely prepared for the workforce by the time they enter it. I think that they have a special role to play in the environment they are about to enter.

Their is a lot of debate in this country about the direction we are heading today, not just in the country but globally. There’s a lot of debate about truth and stability and I think that an education from a place like Westminster enables folks to contribute to that debate positively. I’m really excited to see what they have to bring to the table and I am incredibly honored to be invited to share a few minutes with them on their special day.

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Davis Lentz
Davis is a 22-year-old communication major at Westminster College who grew up in Rhode Island. He enjoys spending time in either the mountains or on the water and recently discovered he likes sushi.

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