So here we are.
The day you’ve been working toward.
The day you can look back on all the early morning classes and late-night study sessions, and know it was worth it.
The day you realize you did it — and you’re prepared for whatever comes next.
Commencement is always special for you graduates, your families, and our entire university. But this Commencement is particularly special because it caps off the 150th anniversary of our university’s founding.
It was 1866 when the first students came to KU. There were 55 of them, nearly all from around Lawrence. Today, there are nearly 4,500 of you here in caps and gowns, including students from across the nation and world. What started as a small college on the hill has become a flagship research university with a mission to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world. And now each of you is a part of this university’s mission, our history, and our future.
Today you heard the stories of Terry Evans and Brian McClendon, two Jayhawks who have changed how we see the world. You’ll find Jayhawks like Terry and Brian across the globe, using their talent to strengthen communities, lead companies, enrich our lives through art, run non-profits, treat patients, and solve society’s pressing needs. And when you leave here — it’s your turn.
I know you’ll do great things when you leave here because of the great things you have already done.
For example …
Gabrielle Murnan, who carried our commemorative KU 150 banner into the stadium today, has spent the past semester in Washington DC, serving as a White House intern on the president’s Energy & Climate team.
Christi Nance, in our Masters of Public Health program, has worked with government officials to support smoking cessation among youth in communities throughout the Kansas City area.
Cornelius Baker has served as a Counseling and Psychological Services advisory board member and a peer educator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and will call on these experiences as he works to become a multicultural counselor and find ways to improve access to mental health services for marginalized populations.
And earlier this semester, a number of you came together to create “Operation Flint,” a week-long series of activities to educate the KU campus about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and to collect money and bottled water for relief efforts.
These are just a few examples of how so many of you have done terrific work at KU. And I am excited to think about how each of you will use your experience here at KU to write the next chapter in your lives.
As this is KU’s 150th anniversary, we’ve done a lot of reflecting this year on KU’s history, as well as our role in shaping the future.
The idea of the University of Kansas was first articulated in the 1850s, when Kansas became ground zero for some of our nation’s most violent disputes on slavery and statehood. In 1863, this city was burned to the ground, and nearly 200 of its citizens killed.
But the vision of a university persevered. And in 1866, amid the smoldering ashes of the Civil War, this university was born.
In other words, since its founding, this university has overcome adversity and inserted itself into our nation’s most significant challenges. We have a legacy of persevering and confronting these challenges head on. And that’s every bit as true today as it was 150 years ago.
For sure, some of today’s challenges are different than those of a century-and-a-half ago. But some are quite similar. And they’re every bit as daunting as those faced by our predecessors.
Today, our society continues to grapple with extreme wealth inequality, gun policy, the depletion of natural resources, climate change, the appropriate role of government, access to healthcare, the need for new cures and treatments, and ensuring an inclusive society in which we all have a chance to live prosperous, fulfilling lives. These are incredibly complicated topics for which there are no easy answers.
Ever since you arrived here as freshmen or to begin your graduate programs, you’ve heard me and others encourage you to use your time here to begin addressing these challenges through scholarship and experiences outside the classroom.
We’ve called on you to address these challenges, knowing full well they are complicated and uncomfortable ...
Knowing full well they require thoughtful, multidisciplinary solutions.
And knowing full well you’ll make some people angry by addressing them.
I’m proud that so many of you answered that call here on Mount Oread — through your studies, your service, your research and your involvement in campus organizations.
But I am even more proud of the work I know you’ll do when you leave here to continue addressing these challenges.
So Jayhawks — this is my hope for you, and my charge to you today:
As you leave this place, use the knowledge and perspective you’ve acquired at KU to address society’s grand challenges, and make this world a better place.
Dedicate yourself not only to doing well, but to doing good.
When you see something in your workplace or community or in our society that needs to be improved — fix it.
And when you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others — seize that opportunity.
Yes, I want you to have successful careers …But more broadly, I want you to lead meaningful lives, and to make your mark on our society.
To leave here with a degree makes you an alum. But to leave here with a desire to improve the world around you — That’s what makes you a Jayhawk.
I am proud of you, Jayhawks. And I am proud of the great things you’ll do when you leave here today.
Now graduates, by the authority vested in me by the Board of Regents of the State of Kansas, and upon the recommendation of the several faculties of the university, I now confer upon each of you the degree appropriate to your course of study, entitling you to all the rights, privileges and responsibilities pertaining to that degree.
Congratulations and Rock Chalk!