EUREKA - Eureka College graduated its largest class to date Saturday morning, as 188 students received undergraduate degrees. | Average student loan debt in Ill. is $18,500
"This class and my presidency began about the same time in late summer of 2005," said Eureka College president J. David Arnold. "We started beneath the elms together and now we will finish together."
David Wessel, economics editor for the Wall Street Journal, addressed the students and spoke about his family's Eureka roots. He is the recipient of two Pulitzer prizes and was given an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the college.
"I know that most colleges like to boast about their connections to big names in history," he said. "But today I want to talk about some people who were not well-known … I grew up on the stories of the people of this college and community."
Wessel's mother, uncle and grandparents came to Eureka in 1941 after fleeing Germany during World War II.
"In 1939 my grandparents put their two kids on a train and boat and sent them to England, never knowing if they would see them again," he said.
In 1940 his grandparents had intended to escape via Holland, but some friends insist they go to America through Italy.
"As it turned out the Germans attacked Holland," Wessel said. "But they were safely on the last civilian boat to leave Europe for America."
The family was then taken by Quakers to Iowa, and later they settled in Eureka. Wessel related a story about how welcoming the people of the community were to his grandparents.
"At the time I'm told Eureka was famous for its pumpkin pie," he said. "So everyone decided to welcome them with pumpkin pies. Not wanting to offend anyone by throwing them out, my grandmother would flush one pie down the toilet every night."
Wessel's grandfather learned English at Eureka College and his mother went to school there for free.
"None of this would have happened if the people of Eureka hadn't extended kindness," he said.
Today's economy, Wessel said, is not as bad as the Great Depression. The threats to our nation are not as great as the Nazis' threat.
"You will all be told you can change the world," he said. "But only a few of you will. But most will have good lives. I want you to be able to say, 'Maybe I didn't change the world, but I made a life better for just one family.'"