Kent State Announces Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer as Commencement Speaker

Kent State University is honored to welcome Academy Award-winning actress and author Octavia Spencer as the keynote speaker for the first university-wide Commencement ceremony on May 13.

Best known for critically acclaimed starring roles in films such as “The Help,” “Hidden Figures” and “The Shack,” Ms. Spencer is also the co-author of two children’s books. Her acting roles highlight stories of perseverance and tenacity that motivate and inspire audiences of all ages. Ms. Spencer’s mother, Dellsena, worked as a maid, and Ms. Spencer, the sixth of seven children, earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University. Ms. Spencer has said that she loved playing characters that have “a voice and an opinion” and were proactive in bringing about change in their communities, “ordinary women who were heroes.”

Ms. Spencer won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress as the feisty and unflappable Minny Jackson in the film “The Help.” She also received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her most recent role as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the drama “Hidden Figures,” the true story of several African-American mathematicians at NASA who were critical to the success of the space race in the 1960s. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ms. Spencer bought out a Los Angeles screening of “Hidden Figures” to treat low-income families who would have otherwise not been able to see the film.

“I am looking forward to take part in Kent State’s first university-wide Commencement ceremony,” Ms. Spencer said. “It’s an honor for me to share my personal story of perseverance and hard work. I hope my message inspires others to dream big, never give up and pursue their passion despite the obstacles that might get in the way.”

The 256th University Commencement ceremony will mark the first time all graduates from the eight-campus system are convened and honored in one ceremony. Whether a student is receiving an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or a doctoral degree from any one of the university’s eight campuses, all Kent State students and their families will celebrate the occasion together. 

“Commencement is among the most important events in the lives of our students and families,” said Kent State President Beverly Warren. “We are delighted that this inaugural One University Commencement will feature the compelling story of Octavia Spencer, whose meaningful voice and inspiring example are sure to be a highlight of this momentous ceremony.”

President Warren added that the university-wide ceremony also reinforces Kent State’s signature status as one of the largest public research universities in the nation, and one of the closest families in the world.

The One University Commencement will be in addition to the college ceremonies currently hosted each spring at the Regional and Kent campuses. At these college and Regional Campus ceremonies, students will continue to have the opportunity to be personally recognized as they cross the graduation stage.

The One University Commencement will take place in Dix Stadium on Saturday, May 13, at 10 a.m. Faculty, staff, graduating students and their families are invited to attend the ceremony. All guests (including children 1 year and older) must have a ticket to enter the ceremony venue. Graduating students who have not sent their RSVP for the One University Commencement can complete a late ceremony RSVP to secure up to six tickets. Faculty and staff can email to request tickets.

Doors will open at 7:30 a.m. Seating for the One University Commencement is general admission, and all parking lots will be open. Shuttles will run throughout the day to and from Dix Stadium and other Kent Campus ceremony venues, and shuttle buses also will provide transportation from all Regional Campuses to Dix Stadium. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony may be shortened, suspended or concluded.

For more information about Kent State’s Commencement, visit the Commencement website.

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Media Contacts:
Eric Mansfield,, 330-672-2797
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Friday, April 21, 2017 09:39 AM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 09:42 PM
University Communications and Marketing