Joseph L. Wesley, the benefactor who donated $21.5 million for the construction of the Joseph L. and Marion M. Wesley Student Center and bleachers and keynote speaker at Williamson’s 129th Commencement on June 3, asked President Michael Rounds to read his speech for him because he felt such strong emotion thinking of his life and his love of Williamson. Rounds agreed, saying he wasn’t sure if he could control his emotions either as he read it.
In the speech, addressing the graduating seniors of the Class of 2W2, Rounds, with Wesley and his wife standing by him, read, “America is not great because of politicians, movie stars, or professional athletes, America is great and will continue to be great because of people like you.
“Education and character are the true backbone of patriots and you have both. Each of you has made himself into the best kind of man – a man of character. Now, more than ever, America needs men like you. Your family, friends, and communities need men like you.
“You have what it takes to be successful. You have successfully taken on every challenge Williamson has presented. You have what it takes to be leaders. All of us are so proud of you today and we will continue to be proud as we follow your successes through the years.”
On a stage on the Betty and Russell 5W0 Harvey Athletic Field before an in-person audience of about 1,400, the largest in Williamson history, Rounds went on to read that the key to success is hard work and humility, and confidence and respect. Wesley wrote that early in life he went through some difficult times and that no matter how hard things got character always got him through. He also wrote that among his many blessings is having discovered Williamson College of the Trades.
He reminded the students that they are sought after by employers not only for their trade skills, but because they are men of character. “You are the finest young men of your generation. You are men of commitment, hard work, and character. You can take on challenges and succeed. You are true patriots who are fit to be America’s future leaders.”
At the conclusion of the speech, Rounds presented Wesley with an honorary associate in specialized technology degree, saying “It is now my opportunity to present to Joe something he never had the opportunity to receive before, a diploma as an honorary graduate of Williamson College of the Trades.”
This was followed by senior class president James McChesney, on behalf of the senior class, presenting Wesley with the Commencement Award manufactured in the Machine Shop with some help from the Carpentry Shop. The plaque contains moving gears representing each trade taught at Williamson as well as the core values – faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service.
In his introduction of Wesley, Rounds explained that in 2017 Wesley came to Williamson for the first time. He returned several times and talked with students, faculty, and staff. The more he learned about Williamson the more he appreciated the school’s mission. He then decided to make a gift that would have an impact. During a luncheon with Rounds and William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman, he announced he was ready to make a gift of up to $20 million for the construction of a student center. [He later added $1.5 million for the construction of the bleachers.] Wesley said, “I want you to have something you can be proud of. I want you to be able to tell the students they are worth it and deserve having a first class facility.” On January 1, 2020, Rounds and Bonenberger signed the Wesley Student Center gift agreement, making it all official.
Rounds said that the Joseph L. and Marion M. Wesley Student Center will become the focal point for student life. “This will be a place they can exercise, recreate, hangout, play eSports, lift weights, run, and use three basketball courts. It will have bleachers going down to the athletic field and a patio. It will be a place for Williamson students to be together. This beautiful building will be completed next January and ready for use spring semester 2023.”
Rounds explained that Wesley has a lot in common with Williamson’s founder. “Joe came from humble beginnings, worked hard, started his own business, took some chances, grew his business, and became very successful, like our founder. After becoming successful, he didn’t think just of himself, he wanted to help others. As his wealth grew, Joe and Marion created the Joseph and Marion Wesley Family Foundation, concentrating on education. I think when Joe Wesley looks at our students, he sees himself.”
Wesley grew up in humble circumstances with a limited education. While a teenager, he married Marion and joined the Marines. While serving in the military, he learned how to operate cranes and realized he was good at it. After his service, he worked as a crane operator for several companies. Then, in 1967, he and his wife founded the American Equipment Rental Co. To get started, they mortgaged their home and bought their first crane. They worked hard to make their company successful, sacrificing much along the way.
The company grew through Wesley’s hard work and acquisitions to become a major American crane rental company. Its name was later changed to AmQuip, “The Crane People.” Under his leadership, the company, headquartered in Bensalem, Pa., continued to grow until it became one of the largest crane companies in the world. He sold the company in 2007 and continued to serve on the board for many years.
Rounds, in his welcoming remarks, said “The Class of 2W2’s class officers have led the class exceptionally well and set a positive example to underclassmen during the challenges of the last several years.”
McChesney, in his senior address, said “We have had hard work and long days and formed a brotherhood. The school’s core values will carry you far in your life. They all fall into line under the first – faith. Seniors, we are about to become alumni and go out into the world as Williamson Men who are expected to live out the values we have been taught. Being Williamson Men is important, but it is more important to be men of God.”
McChesney then passed the senior gavel to Jason Minch, president of the Class of 2W3, who said, “Congratulations to the Class of 2W2. Your 1,000-day journey has come to an end. You are one of the most distinctive classes to graduate in Williamson history because you have dealt with a very unique and challenging situation all three years of your journey – the COVID pandemic. You saw how normal can change in the blink of an eye and that nothing should be taken for granted. You are also the last class to graduate with students in the Paint and Coatings Technology Program. You have been a student, leader, foreman, and friend, and now Williamson Men.”
Dr. Michelle T. Williams, vice president of academic affairs/CAO, then announced the seniors who had been inducted into the I.V. Club and the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and the recipients of the commencement awards, with some help from Bonenberger.
In his closing remarks, Rounds said to the seniors, “Your class motto was a great selection, ‘You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.’ The wind changed, you adjusted the sails, and didn’t let anything deter you from completing that 1,000-day journey. True leadership is always tested in adversity and you and your classmates rose to the challenges together. You stayed focused and provided leadership to the underclassmen and completed the mission to graduate. When you look back over your life, the things you will value the most are the things you worked hardest for. You started with 100 and there are 65 here today. You stayed the course and you should be proud of that.”
He then said Williamson graduates leave with gratitude in their hearts for the gift of having attended Williamson. An example of this is that over 70 percent signed the Stabler Challenge, pledging to donate to Williamson in the future.
He also pointed out that this is the final graduating class in Paint and Coatings Technology, a program that started in 1937, ending the Patternmaking Program. The administration at that time decided there was no great future in patternmaking, so they transitioned the program into the Painting and Decorating Program. This program lasted 84 years and at one point became the Painting and Coatings Technology Program. This program served Williamson and its students well and will now be transitioned into the Electrical Program. The Electrical Program will begin in the fall semester of 2022 with 20 freshmen in the program.
Rounds, Joseph and Marion Wesley, Bonenberger, and John Rex 7W5, president of the Alumni Association, then presented the associate in specialized technology degrees to each senior. As they left the athletic field, each graduate, with diploma in hand, rang the Commencement Bell signifying he is now a Williamson alumnus.
Commencement began with the Artisans, under the leadership of Sherre Gaertner, singing the National Anthem and closed with the alma mater. David Churchman 7W2, representing his class as they celebrated their 50th anniversary of graduating from Williamson, opened the program with an invocation. Rev. Mark Specht 7W7 closed the event with the benediction.