It has been two months since the William Woods University commencement, but people are still talking about the speaker.
Jimmy Wayne, an award-winning country music singer and New York Times best-selling author, gave the address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony. He talked about his life, from foster care and homelessness to Nashville and Madison Square Garden, and how he persevered.
"This was without question one of the best commencement addresses we have ever experienced," university president Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett said.
Graduates also said they agreed.
"I loved that he relayed a 'No one can help you if you don't help yourself' mentality," said Tori Brandt, a business and accounting major from Fulton, now working for the State of Missouri Auditors office while getting her MBA from WWU.
Wayne kicked off his speech by singing "Where You're Going," a song about the importance of looking ahead. It resonated with the graduating class, and particularly with Anthony Bedford. Bedford, who sang the national anthem during the ceremony, is a social work major from St. Louis and is now employed by the Callaway County Children's Division in Fulton.
"His speech not only gave insight to his life — it also gave strength, encouragement, and guidance," he said. "No matter what hardships you may face in life, you can rise to success if you work hard and believe."
George Garner, a social work professor from Fulton, also said he loved it.
"This commencement address was the most vulnerable and meaningful presentation I have seen in my 23-year tenure as a professor," Garner added. "His overarching themes of love, respect, appreciation, mentoring, hope and work ethic were perfect messages for graduates."
Wayne's address ended with a lively standing ovation. Dan Westhues, senior vice president at Central Bancompany, university trustee and WWU alumnus, and Barnett also gave Wayne an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, recognizing his work to raise awareness of the foster care system.
"As our students enter into the workforce and start their career, it is important for them to also be a part of and contribute to their community," Westhues said. "My hope is that Wayne's story activates this generation to contribute to betterment of our society, while accomplishing their own individual goals."