Commencement Address 2019

One University Commencement address
kent state university
president Beverly warren
May 11, 2019

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Thank you very much, Provost. And thank you for that kind introduction. But most importantly, thanks for being my partner over the last five years.

Honored trustees and Provost Diacon, deans and faculty, esteemed colleagues and guests, but, most especially, graduates of 2019, what a glorious moment this is. Commencement is my favorite day in the life of a university. We come together to mark the passage of time and celebrate the possibilities ahead.

Life brings very few occasions when past, present, and future converge to tell the full story of you. You have
earned your way into those caps and gowns. And you should be proud of that.


When the Board of Trustees asked me to be your commencement speaker, I was, of course, honored and also, frankly, a little stressed. I know who the prior two speakers were. And so what do I say to a group of students I've grown not only to admire but to truly love? And you are no easy audience.

I know you to be savvy and discerning. I know how high you set the bar for authenticity. And we speak of Kent State grit. And you've got grit. In a world that endures thousands of commencement speeches every spring, what possible original words of wisdom could I offer?

So I decided to talk about you. I've learned so much from this class of graduates. In our time together, we have built an inclusive, generous, welcoming community. We honor the complexity of perspectives. And I am immensely grateful to have been here as you proved yourselves not just with academic results, but as women and men of uncommon, caring, proven character.

Improving yourself is no small feat. Not everybody even tries. Some just skate by. Some dream big but never execute. But that is not you, and it is not us.

In this community, the challenge reaches every ear. Whoever you are, whatever you stand for, prove it. Engage. Make it real. Let me remind you how you have proven yourselves and share what you taught me in the process.

I always heard that you should find a calling you truly love. And when you succeed, the saying goes, you'll never work a day in your life. At Kent State, we believe it. We say changing the world begins with finding your passion. But it turns out we mean more. Find something to love, then prove it. Just claiming you love something is not enough.

Over these years, I came to admire a member of the Kent State Golden Flashes marching band, a piccolo player. I would watch her take the field in every kind of weather, playing her heart out in downpours, stiff winds, ice needles flying. I thought, if this woman can play her heart out in an ice storm for Kent State, well, I guess I can do one more budget meeting.

Imagine my surprise when I learned this dedicated piccolo player was not even a music major. She was a molecular biologist in the making. Jennifer Luck. Her energy is incredible. And I wanted to understand why a molecular biologist brought such passion to her music.

And this is what Jennifer told me. She said, do you know what? Every time I cross onto that field, I leave everything else behind. When I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, I leave that weight on the sideline, march onto the field, and play my heart out.

So it's easy to say you love music, but from Jennifer and many more of you, I learned how much more it means when you prove it out in the freezing rain. That is Kent State. That is Jennifer. And this is Jennifer's opportunity now. As she moves forward toward graduation today, she will move on to pursue her PhD in molecular biology with or without her piccolo. I hope with.

From day one, we challenged you to discover your passion. It was you who showed me the power of going beyond lip service to prove you mean it. I've watched you discover your voices and use them to speak up for what you believe. I cheered as you found important things to fight for and backed up your words with personal commitment. Sooner or later, we must all face the question-- for whom did you stand up when it wasn't easy or simple? And you have answered that question in the most admirable and moving ways.

For example, in 2016, this campus became one of the few in the United States with a group focused on autism, Autism Connections Kent, founded by those with autism spectrum disorders and their friends, dedicated to the proposition that autism support and acceptance is not a disability issue but a diversity issue. That wasn't the administration leading. That was you leading, you deciding whom and what to fight for.

And today, Kent State is ranked among the top universities in the country for individuals with autism who want to find a home. Your work caught the attention of a basketball talent with autism, Kalin Bennett. Kalin chose to pursue his education at Kent State, the first NCAA I player of his kind. What attracted him wasn't the scholarship or the great training room. He came because of you, you standing up for others, making this university a welcoming place for all.

You have proven that words matter. Truth and civility matter. And action matters. And you know what? You couldn't be coming along at a better time for society.

This is no time to sit on the sidelines. It is a time to make things happen as only you can make them happen. And you have seen that in these strident and divided times, you have again and again proven the power of inclusion and compassion.

It was J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame who told another commencement audience, we do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.

And we at Kent State go a step further. Imagine better. Then prove it works. Make your dreams real. Make them matter. And that is what happens at SURE, the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

We gather great Kent State undergraduates for eight weeks of intense faculty-sponsored research. And then we watch the fireworks. One of those fireworks is named Hayley Shasteen. Hayley's work on cognitive impairment in lupus patients was so amazing it took first place honors at SURE this year. And Hayley was invited to speak to a national audience of psychologists.

We have another firework called Gracen Gerbig, whose research on infectious bacteria in rodents promises to lead to better antibiotic treatments for humans. Hayley and Gracen were just named 2019 Goldwater Scholars, the first ever Kent State students to receive this national prestigious honor.


They and many more-- all of you-- excelled at a university that not only welcomes innovation and imagination, it rewards it. They and you confirm Kent State as a design innovation center with a bright and vital future. We have fireworks going off all over the sky all the time.

So some merely imagine something better, and that is their beginning and their end. Kent Staters start from that point. You jump into the noble fray of life and make a difference.

And one of the first lessons I learned about Kent State is what a sense of family we have. Think of what a healthy family does for you. It roots for you. It celebrates your wins and comforts you after your losses. It accepts you and always welcomes you home.

Many of you are mindful of your real families today, the families that raised you. But as you get older, believe me, you start to see you can join other families too. Family is where you find it. And family is where you create it.

And you've proven it in good times. I am moved by the Kent State Flashathon students who dance each spring for those who cannot in a 12-hour marathon fundraiser for Akron Children's Hospital. They raise awareness of childhood cancer. They prove their commitment with love and energy.

Flashathon people show up early, and they stay late for those kids. And they say, we do it for the kids. Great families are like that. Proof of family style generation makes the peaks of our joys more memorable and the moments of our pain more bearable. You have taught me one at a time and in powerful groups how much like a family we truly are.

I never saw this more clearly than when news spread of my cancer diagnosis. In those days, I was forced to concede that even a university president can face a life-altering challenge. I worried about my energy, keeping my schedule.

And then you painted the rock with a hashtag #bevstrong. That was when I knew I was home. You proved Kent State is a family.


You taught me how to accept donations of strength. You lifted my resolve to march on and to live life day by day. And now as we part, I feel that we have collaborated as a family to leave Kent State better than we found it.

And so finally, speaking of leaving, graduates, it is not only you that is about to depart this place. I think you know I am leaving too. And you will always be so special to me because yours is the last undergraduate class I will face on a commencement day.


If you have loved Kent State and find today bittersweet, if you are charged up about your next chapter but still churning with mixed feelings about the transition, well, I think I know exactly how that goes. I'm right there with you.

So one small piece of advice. Making a change of this magnitude, evolving away from a place that is safe and cherished-- it never gets easy, not if you're doing life right. You commit, you invest, you embrace.

And then moving along, as we now must, is naturally a mix of melancholy and joy. But as we've done on so many occasions, you and I will do this together and support each other in the process. Just as I have been fortunate to know you in our years at Kent State, the world is about to discover a class of graduates that is exceptional in every way.

We are about to go our separate ways. But family endures. Our onward travel will carry us to strange new country. It will be different for each of us and impossible to predict. But I guarantee we have equipped each other for our journeys.

I know you will touch your new communities with the same fearless, caring spirit you've shown here and you've shown me. So please be open to acts of random kindness that come your way. A full life brings its disappointments, but watch for those magical moments of joy that come from connecting with others. They are the best part of the trip.

So now it's time to fly. And as one of my favorite poets Mary Oliver wrote, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over, announcing your place in the family of things.

So as you find your rightful place in the family of things, may you find strength in your lifetime connection to this Kent State family, which is now forever yours to tap into and draw strength from wherever you go. Kent State will always cheer you on. It will always welcome you back. And it will always love you as you are unconditionally.

Those of you facing new jobs, schools, or other challenges-- know you will be asked to prove yourselves again and again. But remember where you learned how to do it. Whatever you attempted here, whatever you believed, whatever or whomever you loved, Kent State is where you proved yourself. Whatever comes next, you got this. Find something to love. Find something important to fight for.

Imagine something better and make it real. And take comfort in family wherever you find it and wherever you create it. You know how to do this. You proved it at Kent State. And so as we depart together, I say to you, godspeed, class of 2019.