Wittenberg University is proud to announce that Albert Bryan Jr., Wittenberg class of 1989 and governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has agreed to present the keynote address at the 173rd Commencement exercises scheduled for Saturday, May 13, in picturesque Commencement Hollow.
"Governor Bryan embodies what it means to pass one's light in the Wittenberg tradition, so we are delighted that he has agreed to serve as our keynote speaker," said President Michael L. Frandsen, Ph.D. "We look forward to welcoming him back to his alma mater to celebrate the Class of 2023 with us."
Bryan is the ninth elected governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands with a population approx. 105,000. He was first elected to the highest office in 2018 and re-elected again in 2022. Bryan said that this accomplishment completed a lifelong goal he has worked on since graduating from Wittenberg.
“I have always been attracted to leadership and politics, and I could think of no more rewarding an occupation than serving the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the highest office in the land,” said Bryan, who was born and raised on the island of St. Thomas, but has lived on the island of St. Croix for more than 35 years. He graduated from Wittenberg with a degree in economics and earned his MBA from the University of the Virgin Islands in 2003.
Bryan’s career track has reflected Wittenberg’s success in producing problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and creative graduates who can adapt and succeed wherever they land. Bryan has pursued such diverse paths as an oil refinery worker, business office manager of a multi-million-dollar Virgin Islands corporation, commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, and an entrepreneur focused on strategies to create business opportunities and career paths for others. He also inspired future generations in financial literacy and leadership as executive director of the Virgin Islands branch of Junior Achievement USA.
As governor, he now presides over four islands - St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island - and 25 different departments. He is complemented by a legislature of 15 elected senators.
“In the Virgin Islands, we do not have state sport teams, so politics is a ‘national’ pastime,” said Bryan, who was a peer mentor and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Mu Xi, and Concerned Black Students during his time at Wittenberg. “Politics has been in my blood from a very young age, and I still remember accompanying my mom to campaign rallies. My family lived and breathed politics. As I grew older, I took a natural liking to the social nature of the job and, of course, the constant debating that has enabled me and others to be more engaged citizens.”
Bryan put a ton of faith in Wittenberg, moving almost 2,000 miles away from home to attend. The decision resulted in a school that offered him not only the degree he originally sought in political science, but a global platform for him to more fully understand human nature and the importance of the diversity of people, culture, and faith.
“The academic and life lessons I experienced at Wittenberg presented me a broader perspective for achieving a successful career path when I returned home,” he said. “Wittenberg was a very different educational and broadening experience for me. The diversity of the student body and the ability to participate and interact with so many different groups and people were invaluable. I must say that the education that I was privileged to receive helped me to strengthen a foundation that has led me this far. There is a lot more to do, and I am confident that my Wittenberg education is the gift that will keep on giving.”
Bryan will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the Commencement ceremony. Bryan previously provided a brief virtual address during the height of the COVID pandemic to the graduating class of 2020.
Looking ahead to the treasured ceremony, Haley Eckhert, senior class president and a psychology and business management double major, said the emotions leading up to the big day are mixed.
“The feeling of the senior class is a mixture of both excitement and sadness. Excitement to branch off and experience the world and move forward into our futures, but also sadness to leave a place many of us feel is like a second home. Many I feel are trying to enjoy every minute we still have on campus as we look toward the end of our last semester here.”
Eckhert, from Columbus, Ohio, has been active at Wittenberg as a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, the Communication and Business Leadership Experience (CABLE) Program, 4 Paws for Ability, a Tiger Team member, a tour guide in the Office of Admission, and a member of the Honors Program. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in recruiting and human resources, as well as to attend a graduate school to earn a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.
“The most fitting words I feel describe this senior class is resilient, determined, and fun-loving,” Eckhert added. “We as a group have had a roller coaster experience with COVID peaking during our freshman year and having to find some normalcy post pandemic. This class has made the most of every opportunity and has remained involved and connected to this campus. I feel as a class we all love to work hard for our passions but have learned to ensure we have fun and enjoy all life has to offer.”
Wittenberg is planning for traditional Commencement Exercises beginning at 11:30 a.m. with access to the venue to be restricted until 9:30 a.m. All guests must be seated by 11 a.m. In the event of inclement weather, the program will be held in the Health, Wellness & Athletics Center’s Pam Evans Smith Arena. Tickets are required for an indoor ceremony.
Bryan's announcement came during the 100 Days ‘Til Graduation event, which took place Feb. 2, in Founders Pub at the Benham-Pence Student Center. On Feb. 17, Wittenberg will host a Countdown to Commencement event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Geil Lounge on the lower level of the student center. During this event, graduates will have the opportunity to place orders for caps and gowns, announcements, diploma frames, and other Commencement-related items. For additional information on Wittenberg’s 2023 Commencement Exercises, click here.