Aaron Flewellen, President of the Chapman University Alumni Association, made the following speech during Opening Convocation on August 24, 2021. Aaron’s speech is a powerful testament to the strength of the Chapman Family during the last 18 months, and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it! Watch the video, or read the full transcript below.
Good evening class of 2025! I am thrilled to welcome each of you – in person! – to our amazing campus. My name is Aaron Flewellen, and as the President of the Chapman University Alumni Association I bring you well wishes from more than 50,000 Chapman alumni spread out around the world.
Convocation is a rite of passage, an enduring tradition that connects the students of today with alumni throughout time. Tonight we embrace you as collegiate scholars, as independent thinkers, and most importantly, as our peers.
As President of the Alumni Association it is one of my duties to welcome you on behalf of our alumni community. Since I first sat where you are 21 years ago, Chapman has come to hold an important place in my life. I met my wife here, I met many of my best friends here, I got married here, and Chapman helped to set me on a trajectory for both personal and professional success. But it wasn’t until the last 18 months that I realized what a truly special place Chapman is.
Martin Luther King Jr said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
This quote holds true not just for individuals, but for institutions as well. When the world shut down in March of 2020, it was a crisis for higher education. Campuses around the world were forced to close, dorms were emptied, as unemployment rose, families couldn’t pay tuition. Even the conversion to remote learning was incredibly expensive. Chapman, a relatively small school, was facing a budget shortfall projected to reach $100,000,000.
How Chapman, starting with President Struppa, the Board of Trustees, and the rest of leadership responded is my proudest moment as a Panther. At the same time a very prestigious University in Northern California with a $28 billion endowment was announcing hundreds of layoffs, Chapman leadership took pay cuts and announced no one would lose their jobs. When the dorms were closed, Chapman immediately refunded students. Even though they couldn’t work, students who relied on income from their on campus jobs continued to receive a paycheck. I heard stories of flights being purchased for students who didn’t have a way to get home.
That Spring, over 1300 alumni, parents, and friends of the University stepped up to donate funds so Chapman could increase financial aid for those whose families were suffering. And just a few weeks ago, hundreds of faculty, staff, and volunteers got together to hold an entire weekend of graduation services for the class of 2020 — it might have been a year late but Chapman wanted to make sure all of our alumni got the recognition and celebration they deserved. In the middle of a crisis, Chapman stepped up.
Earlier tonight you heard President Struppa mention the “Chapman Family.” This is how we refer to all of those in the Chapman orbit – students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, and supportive community members. If the last 18 months have shown us anything, it’s that people here truly think of each other as a family.
So students — I encourage you to turn around and acknowledge your parents for most certainly leading you through many challenges and helping you get where you are today. I promise you, it was not an easy task. And parents, as you prepare for your children to leave home for the first time, know that you’re sending them to an incredibly special place who will care for them like a member of the family. Thank you.