Michael John Gallagher II, ’19, 2021 Kent State Advocacy Award Recipient

“In his short and remarkable life, Michael built camaraderie and community across four continents. He represented Kent State with enthusiasm and integrity during his many travels.”

In December 2020, Kent State University and communities around the world lost a vibrant, creative and kind young individual. Michael John Gallagher II graduated magna cum laude from Kent State in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. His concentration in global communications took him to countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, and he never failed to leave a lasting impact on the places he visited and the people he met.

“In his short and remarkable life, Michael built camaraderie and community across four continents,” said Stephanie Smith, assistant professor, School of Media and Journalism. “He represented Kent State with enthusiasm and integrity during his many travels.”

From the start of his undergraduate career, Michael knew exploring the world would be an integral part of his education. At the end of his freshman year in 2016, Michael was selected as a member of Kent State’s first class of Sichuan University Scholars, a competitive and prestigious two-week summer immersion program at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. He was of the youngest in the program of 19 Kent State scholars, yet Michael quickly wove himself into the community, capturing the respect of his peers, faculty, staff and locals.

“I met Michael while serving as the faculty chaperone for the Sichuan program,” Stephanie recalled. “He quickly distinguished himself as a natural leader, and he had an unbridled enthusiasm for every cultural experience, every building, every market and every meal in Chengdu.”

During the program, Michael was asked to give a lecture on American culture to a group of Chinese and South Korean students. His presentation took the students on a cultural tour from Britney Spears to Chicago pizza to Portillo’s cake shakes. This presentation showed his commitment to sharing his own culture, and his desire to understand theirs was equally strong.

The following year, Michael spent his fall semester at the Kent State University Florence Center. His exuberant embrace of the academic program and the city led to his appointment as a student ambassador during Kent State President Beverly Warren’s visit. In that experience, Michael represented the best of Kent State and served as an invaluable resource to Kent State staff and leadership.

Michael was not only a positive force abroad. In addition to his exceptional global citizenship, Michael was a local organizer and activist. As a member of the first “Media & Movements” class in the College of Communication and Information (CCI), he and his peers developed multimedia public education campaigns to help a Northeast Ohio county that had been blighted by the opioid epidemic. Michael led a team of students who designed middle school curriculum, which they called “Practice Positive,” to help children make healthy choices, avoid drugs and seek good role models.

“The campaign was creative, colorful, grounded in research and very well received,” Stephanie said. “I taught that class; I saw how committed he was and how he helped others develop the same passion for these at-risk children.”

It should come as no surprise that Michael was a beacon of positivity to everyone he crossed paths with on campus. He was a welcoming presence for prospective, new, returning and international students alike.

As a CCI ambassador and a tour guide for the Office of Admissions, he was often the first person at Kent State that prospective students and their families met.

“I would regularly spot him leading campus tours, and I could hear peals of laughter from the tour group even on the coldest, snowiest Ohio days,” Stephanie reflected. “Many of them became KSU students and found their way into his kitchen for his legendary weekend brunches, where good food and good cheer were served in abundance.”

During his senior year, Michael joined the Peace Corps where he would volunteer to support the youth of Benin, West Africa.

“Michael surprised many of us by selecting West Africa as his assignment location,” Stephanie said. “He told me he felt destined to go there.”

In June 2019, he departed for a rural village in North Benin where he worked in a middle school, teaching English to French-speaking children at CEG Yebessi. However, when the COVID -19 pandemic struck, he and his fellow Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated and sent back to their home countries.

His next destination would be the American University of Paris, where he pursued a Master of Arts in Global Communication. In that first semester, he developed friendships with students from several nations, became a stand-out student and began teaching English to local youth, using pop culture to pique their interest. When Michael passed away in December, the community of students, faculty and staff in Paris conducted a tribute in his honor.

Michael is especially missed by his many friends, family, students and teachers at Kent State and his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. In his honor, the Gallagher family established the Michael John Gallagher II Memorial Scholarship, which will serve as a continuation of his everlasting impact at Kent State and beyond.

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