Be the Change: Bill Evans Chosen as Commencement Speaker
By:Brett Seekford '16
Posted: May 9, 2016
At the 2016 Commencement Ceremony, Dr. Bill Evans invoked Mahatma Gandhi as he encouraged graduates to consider how they might be “the change we want to see in the world.” Evans was invited to be the faculty speaker by a commencement committee that surveyed students to determine their selection.
This role proved fitting. He came to JMU in 1994 as a doctoral intern. He returned four years later and began teaching in the Graduate Counseling program before transitioning to undergraduate classes in 2004. He now regularly teaches classes in leadership studies and life development, including courses entitled “Adulthood” and “Death and Dying” and a capstone class called “Leadership and Service.”
His lifelong mission is to help students discover meaning in their lives. “My research passion is to study how people find and create meaning in life,” Evans said. “Therefore, I teach mostly from an ‘experiential learning’ and ‘service learning’ perspective.”
In addition to a Ph.D. earned in 1998 from the University of South Carolina he also holds a Master of Divinity from Duke University, and his study of religion guides him in helping others find importance in life. As a part of this effort, he studies the motivation to serve, the motivation to lead, and the manner in which religion plays a role in people’s lives, among other topics. He wants students to come away from his classes with a sense of value in their lives.
“I always seek to teach to transform lives for the better and to assist students in their quest to find meaning in life,” Evans explained. “I am not really sure why I was selected [as faculty speaker], but that might have something to do with it.”
This speech gave him the opportunity to reach a wider audience and help other people find purpose, as has long been his quest. “I was shocked to find out I was a nominee for this role,” he said. “I’m simply honored to be selected.”
He tailored his speech to appeal to a larger audience, but it nevertheless fits in with his career of studying psychology and improving lives. The goal of his address was to provide encouragement for students as they launch their careers or further study.
“I hope my speech inspired students to make a positive difference in the world,” he said. “I challenged them to think about the positive difference they can make in the world.”
As both a faculty representative and a member of the Department of Psychology, Evans’ reflection on his work in the field emphasizes the importance of psychological study to the audience and the larger world.