Nov. 1, 2019
What a wonderful day at Kent State, and what a wonderful day to celebrate this great institution … this great motor for democracy committed to the American ideal that with hard work and dedication ALL people, both the fortunate few and the meritorious many, can earn a college degree and then go change the world.
More than an inauguration of a president, today is a celebration of Kent State University. It is a celebration of a powerful institution whose eight campuses cover a geographical area larger than the state of Connecticut, and of an institution that anchors communities stretching from Ashtabula in the north to Tuscarawas in the south. More than the inauguration of a president, today is a celebration of what we stand for, and, more importantly, who we stand for. Thank you for joining us today.
Thanks to all of you on the stage, and to those who so graciously agreed to speak today. Chancellor Gardner: Thank you for joining us today, and, more importantly, thank you for your commitment to access and completion in our Ohio universities. Trustee Della Ratta: Thank you for your leadership. That an individual who is so busy, so successful in life, would agree to serve as a trustee, a non-compensated position, is inspiring. Thank you, Professor Pam Grimm, for your leadership of the Faculty Senate, for representing our dedicated professors, and for your advice and counsel. Thank you as well to the other guests joining me on the stage today. Representing our wonderful partner in Brazil, the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, home to our Kent State American Academy, is Dr. Marcello Mira. Thanks as well to Kent City Manager Dave Ruller – I so value your partnership. And thank you, Meg May, for representing our 251,000 alumni.
Speaking of alumni, I’m am so honored that two prominent television broadcasters in Cleveland, both of them Golden Flashes, agreed to participate in this celebration of Kent State. Wayne Dawson: Yours was the first news voice and image I viewed turning on the television when visiting to interview for the job of provost at Kent State. And it was a difficult day, that day when a troubled student opened fire at Chardon High School. Your wisdom, your knowledge and your compassion were all on display. You make us proud, Wayne Dawson.
And Danielle Wiggins, we are so pleased to count you among our graduates. Your enthusiasm is on display each and every morning. I know that on cold and snowy Northeast Ohio mornings you bring warmth and light to our daybreaks. Wayne Dawson and Danielle Wiggins. The morning news shades blue and gold in Cleveland.
Really, my sincerest thanks go to all those on platform party today. To former Kent State presidents Warren, Cartwright and Schwartz: All of us stand on your shoulders. Kent State University is the great institution it is today because of your leadership. Please stand so that we may recognize you. Also, thank you to all university presidents and their representatives here today. We welcome back to his alma mater Dr. Joe Whitehead, the provost of Bowling Green State University, and in particular I wish to welcome the new president of the University of Akron, Dr. Gary Miller, and the new president of the Northeast Ohio Medical University, Dr. John Langell. All university presidents and their representatives please rise so that we may recognize you.
And finally, I wish to acknowledge family members present today. I so appreciate that my brother, Howard, is here today, along with his wife, Nancy. Thanks and love as well to my son, Natan Diacon-Furtado, and his partner, Quinn Sears, and to our niece, Maira Furtado Faria, a current student in the Kent State Master of Architecture program. E por fim, mas nao ultimo, eu agradeco o amor e o apoio da minha esposa, Moema Lacerda Furtado (and last but not least, I thank Moema Lacerda Furtado for her support and love). Would you all stand so that we may recognize you?
A motor for democracy both for the fortunate few and for the meritorious many. I can’t think of a more succinct description of who we are. At one point in our history, after World War II, this meant educating the daughters and sons of proud immigrants: new citizens who through their sweat and muscle built our cities, our region and indeed the nation in factories big and small. Proud people from Ireland, Italy, Hungary and the Ukraine. Czechs and Slovaks, Romanians, Croatians and Serbs joined African American migrants from the U.S. South, and all benefited from good union jobs and the state and nation’s commitment to accessible higher education to send waves of first-generation college students to Kent State. And, of course, that diversity and strength run deep, as our campus literally sits on land once crossed by Native American trails.
Today, as we celebrate our past and present, we recommit ourselves to educating students from all income groups, all races and ethnicities, and from all beliefs and identities. We will continue to make Kent State a student-ready college, so that all our procedures, policies and websites … all our nomenclature and financial aid decisions, will appear in a clearly written language accessible to those who do not come from college-going families, and for whom our annual tuition and fees are the tallest of mountains standing in their path to improvement and advancement.
And this commitment is already paying big dividends. Think about it. In just 10 years, we have doubled our four-year graduation rate. This seems nearly unheard of to me, and it speaks to the dedication of our professors, counselors, advisors, student affairs leaders and our residence hall assistants who together help our students persevere and graduate. And this year we enrolled a freshman honors class that set records for the number of students enrolled, their academic profile and for diversity of origin.
Graduation is a word which the dictionary defines simply enough as “the receiving of an academic degree.” Of course, it isn’t simple, but graduation is our goal for every student who attends Kent State. The cost of attaining those degrees is high, literally. And we are ever mindful that the challenge of debt upon graduation is exceeded only by the tragedy of incurring debt and not earning a degree.
So let our pledge be this: that every student we touch graduates. That every student with particular challenges graduates. That every student who stubs her or his toe academically seeks and receives help, remains enrolled and graduates. That every student with the highest levels of financial need graduates with a manageable debt and with the skills, training, knowledge and experience needed to succeed in their first job, their second job and in jobs that don’t even exist yet. That every student is a Golden Flash, and that Flashes take care of Flashes.
I wish we had more time today to celebrate this great place … its great faculty and staff, its great alumni and our generous donors. I wish I had more time today to celebrate another thing that makes us great: the generation of knowledge and creative work by our researchers, artists, architects, engineers, poets and historians. Their work makes our lives better and richer. Teaching, scholarship and service is our triad of excellence, our reason for existence and the proof of our bright future.
And it is the historian in me that wishes we had time to talk at length today about Kent State University’s singular place in our nation’s history. Unique among others because of a tragedy, we thrive today because of the dogged commitment of its victims and others to keep the story alive. This persistence has in turn revealed lessons that today are more important than ever: that we avoid polarization and poisoned discourse. That we listen first and practice the skills of empathy and compassion. That we act, as steered by our core values, to treat each other with kindness and respect.
Shaped by the American dream, steeled by tragedy and singular among universities in the lessons we can teach a divided nation, WE are Kent State. We are nearly 39,000 students strong. Our size is the secret to our power, impact and success. Think about it, we graduated nearly 10,000 students last year. NEARLY TEN THOUSAND students. Our graduates, year in and year out, are greater in number than the entire enrollments of other universities and colleges. But in the end, we are a collection of individuals, and each individual matters. Our size makes us great, but it is our commitment to each individual’s learning environment and outcomes that makes us transformational, and that makes us a family. Flashes take care of Flashes.
So, it is fitting that I finish today with the stories of three such individuals. The first, our current Graduate Student Trustee Jasmine Hoff, earned her associate degree in nursing from our Geauga Campus, her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from our Kent Campus, and her master’s degree in nursing also from the Kent Campus. She is a registered nurse who has achieved board certification, and currently she serves as assistant nurse manager at the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Lung Transplant Center. And perhaps most impressively, Jasmine is currently pursuing a doctorate in Nursing Practice at Kent State, as well as an Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner graduate certificate. From an associate degree to an advanced degree. From student to nurse to nurse leader. In Jasmine’s case, it is both Flashes taking care of Flashes and Jasmine taking care of us all.
Next, let’s talk about Dr. N.J. Akbar. When I mentioned we have doubled our four-year graduation rate, we have done so because of people like N.J. who, as assistant dean of University College, brings his wisdom, knowledge and life experiences as someone who overcame challenges himself to attain a doctorate at Kent State. This past August, when N.J. received his Ph.D. degree at summer commencement, the platform party blew open the doors of the MACC with their thunderous applause and shouts of well-wishes.
And Dr. Akbar deserved these well-wishes. Struggling with a learning disability, he could barely read in the third grade. His was a life of poverty in Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods. His was a life not of support and advantages, but of obstacles and difficulties. When Dr. Akbar counsels our current students to continue their studies and to overcome obstacles, he is talking the talk because he has walked the walk. When he presses us to do all we can for students, he does so with the passion of someone who has been there and has done that.
And Dr. Akbar’s experience as a Ph.D. student at Kent State speaks to the power and centrality of our great professors. You see, for a while N.J. was struggling as a doctoral student. Struggling as a full-time employee and leader of student success initiatives who was trying at the same time to earn his doctorate. And when the pressures and demands on his time became so immense, and so heavy, and when his own self-doubts mounted, he sent an email to his dissertation director, Dr. Vilma Seeberg, announcing he was quitting the program.
Dr. Seeberg’s response was NO, YOU ARE NOT QUITTING. Let me repeat this: Dr. Seeberg’s response was NO, YOU ARE NOT QUITTING. Those words changed everything. Her support and guidance changed everything. Our faculty’s commitment to our students changes lives. Theirs, and ours, is the most noble of professions. Dr. Akbar is now Dr. Akbar because of Professor Seeberg and because of the work of all his professors and mentors. And now Dr. Akbar is paying it forward, helping not just the fortunate few but also the meritorious many navigate college and earn their degrees.
Dr. Akbar and Dr. Seeberg are with us today. Will you both please rise so that we may honor your commitment to teaching and learning at Kent State? Thank you.
And then, there is Ya’el Courtney. Ya’el fled a difficult home life at the tender age of 15. She entered the foster care system, dropped out of high school, worked full time as a teenager and ultimately earned her GED. And then … well, you know what? It’s better to have Ya’el explain her journey herself. Please watch the video screen with me.
We are a powerful eight-campus system. We graduate nearly 10,000 students a year. Our alumni number 251,000, and they have in the past, and are now, transforming the world. Two of them on the stage with me right now greet us each and every morning and help us make sense of our world. Our faculty engage in that magical and powerful pursuit of both generating knowledge and disseminating that knowledge. Our challenges are many, our resources are great and our commitment is real. Every student we touch graduates. This is our mission. Every student we touch graduates. This is our mantra. Every student we touch graduates. This is our challenge. Every student we touch graduates. This is our task as we move forward. It is a noble goal, and we are up to it.
Thank you for attending this celebration of our university. Thank you for all that each and every one of you does for Kent State, for our students, for those in need and for those needing solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Thank you and GO FLASHES!