When winter break splits the academic year in two, most students take a few weeks to relax and recharge for the spring semester.
Not Ralph "Chet" Otis '14, the student selected to speak for the Class of 2014 at Bucknell University's 164th Commencement.
"I always had a pet project every winter break," Otis explained. "I'd pick something I'm interested in but didn't have time to work on at school, and I'd learn everything I could about it. Sophomore year I picked investing."
While his fellow students were hanging out with family and friends, Otis read all of the introductory materials he could get his hands on. By the time winter break was over, he realized two things: "One, that I knew nothing," said Otis. "And two, that I didn't have nearly enough money to do anything substantial in the market."
Otis remedied them both by creating an investment club. "I pitched the idea to friends, and they pitched it to their friends," said Otis. "I was looking for people who want to learn from each other and experience investing as a group, pool knowledge and money."
Today the Morris Investment Club, cheekily named after investor Robert Morris, has 12 members from five universities, including Bucknell. "We've beaten the market, and we've done very well," said Otis.
Otis has approached all of his goals in the same carefully considered way. He visited Bucknell twice before deciding to enroll. "Both times it was pouring, but I still left with that feeling of home," he remembered.
"I had no idea what I wanted to major in, so I knew I needed a liberal arts school," he said. "Freshman year I took classes in nearly every department, just to experiment." He will graduate with a double-major in political science and economics, and a philosophy minor.
After addressing his fellow graduates on May 18, 2014, Otis plans to attend law school. "My goal following law school is to clerk for a judge," he said. "I've had government internships and I've liked and disliked a lot of what I saw, which encourages me to potentially get into politics someday."
Otis said the leadership roles he's had as a Bucknell student have helped prepare him for graduate work, and beyond. "The opportunities to really lead at Bucknell have developed a lot of my character," he explained. "I was president of my fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, in 2013, which was great and stressful at the same time. It was so much work, and it was tough, but it taught me a lot."
As president, Otis created a scholarship for first-years and founded a local Easter egg hunt in a local park. He is a member of three honor societies: Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Phi Sigma Alpha.
Long after the caps have been tossed high above the Quad, Otis will remember one thing about Bucknell above all others: "The closeness you can have with your professors," he said. "It's a unique place in that you can go out to lunch with professors on a daily basis, or go get coffee, or knock on their door if you're having a rough day. My relationships with professors are a defining aspect of my time at Bucknell."
Otis has had plenty of time to reflect on everything he's accomplished — and how his college journey began. "Everyone told me going into the process that you'll walk into a school and you'll feel at home, comfortable," he said. "That was Bucknell. Now, four years later, I'm pretty sure I'll always feel that way."
Bucknell University's 164th Commencement celebration will take place on Sunday, May 18, beginning at 10 a.m. Best-selling author and award-winning journalist Sheryl WuDunn will deliver the keynote address. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live streamed. The ceremony will also be shown in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts and Trout Auditorium in the Vaughan Literature Building. For a complete schedule of Commencement events, registration and general information, visit Commencement 2014.
Barring heavy rain or severe weather, the Commencement ceremony will be held on the Academic Quad; guests should dress accordingly. In the event inclement weather prompts a decision to hold the ceremony indoors, an alert will be emailed to the campus community and posted to the University's homepage and social media channels. For more information, read our Commencement FAQs.