Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Chancellor encourages students to transform their lives through education

Monday, April 25, 2011

Remarks to the Kiowa County High School Honor Roll Banquet

It’s a pleasure to be back in Greensburg again. This was one of the first places I visited after becoming Chancellor in the fall of 2009.

I traveled here with Dennis McKinney and Chris Ballard – two great ambassadors for Greensburg and the entire county. They showed me a community coming together for a rebirth.

As I see the progress that’s been made in less than two years, and as I think about all that’s been done since May of 2007, it really can only be described as an amazing transformation.

So that’s what I’d like to speak with you about tonight. The power we each have to transform our world and our own lives.

At the center of that power is education, which is why I am so happy to get this opportunity to honor you – the most outstanding high school students in your communities.

You are taking every advantage of the opportunities provided to you by your teachers in this beautiful school, and by your families and community. The education you’re receiving here – and that you’ll have the opportunity to continue after graduation – will give you the power to transform not only your own lives, but also the lives of those around you.

I know this because I’ve seen the power education has to transform a life. I’ve seen it in my students, my children, and myself.

I was a first generation college student. Neither of my parents attended college. In fact, when I applied to college, neither of my parents had completed high school, though they were both naturally smart and worked tremendously hard to support me and my seven siblings.

My mother did later complete her high school degree. She also completed some college courses, which between working and taking care of our family was an even more remarkable feat.

But even though they hadn’t gone to college my parents both emphasized the power an education has to change a life. They knew what it could do for me and my brothers and sisters. They knew education is one of the best ways to a rewarding and prosperous life. And were they here today they would be proud to see what we’ve done with the opportunities we’ve received.

Your parents and loved ones are here today. They are proud of you and they share in this accomplishment with you. Their love and support has helped you get to where you are, and I encourage you to thank them for that.

But even if you are a senior, your journey is not over. And neither is your education. (Sorry, seniors.)

Whether you attend college, or enter the military, or start a career, you must continue to learn and grow if you hope to transform your lives and make real the dreams you each have for your future.

Now, as the KU chancellor, I have to admit a bias – and not just in favor of the Jayhawks.

I believe in the power of a college education. And while the life goals of some students will take them in other directions, I believe that increasing the number of college graduates is important not only to the success of those graduates, but the success of the United States as a whole.

Think about the challenges we face as a nation and then think about the role smart, talented individuals can play in the solution.

In facing one of those challenges Greensburg has done more than any other community on Earth. There is a growing world population and limited resources. So how do we be good stewards of the bounty that’s been provided to us?

You need only to look around this community – even just this building – to see part of the solution. The rebirth of Greensburg as a community living up to its name was an inspired choice, and KU is proud to have been a small part of that rebirth.

Last time I was here I had the chance to visit the 5.4.7 Arts Center, built by students from the KU School of Architecture. They’re part of a program called Studio 804 and they’ve built efficient, sustainable buildings all over Kansas. In fact, they’re building one on the KU campus right now.

They helped show that sustainable buildings can be cost-effective and attractive. And along with the many other buildings constructed in Greensburg, they are pointing the way to a new future. They’re using their education to transform the world around them and preserve it for their children and grandchildren.

They helped show that sustainable buildings can be cost-effective and attractive. And along with the many other buildings constructed in Greensburg, they are pointing the way to a new future. They’re using their education to transform the world around them and preserve it for their children and grandchildren.

Another challenge we face is ensuring people in small towns and rural areas have access to health care. For example, when I visited the then-under construction hospital here in Greensburg, one of the challenges they faced was recruiting a pharmacy to open up in the hospital, because there’s a shortage of pharmacists in Kansas.

There’s also a shortage of doctors and other health professionals, especially in small towns. But once again, education offers a solution.

KU has the only schools of pharmacy and medicine in Kansas and for many years we’ve had a special focus on educating doctors and pharmacists for rural areas. We’re building on that commitment by expanding both schools.

The School of Pharmacy has a new building in Lawrence, but it is also creating a program in Wichita which will begin this fall. Students from both campuses will continue to go to small communities to learn from local pharmacists.

And the School of Medicine has long had a program in Wichita, but it too is now expanding. We’re also adding a program in Salina that has an emphasis on educating doctors for rural communities.

The graduates of these programs will go on to literally transform the lives of the patients they serve. And thanks to these expansions, more of you will have the opportunity to attend these schools, and become a doctor, or a pharmacist.

Of course you’ll need to stay on the honor roll, as competition for spots in both schools is fierce. But the payoff is also great, such as in the pride that you feel serving your neighbors and helping them live longer, healthier lives.

I’ll give you one more example of how education can transform your life and the lives of those around you.

As you know, they build quite a few airplanes in Wichita and the surrounding areas. Engineers design those planes. Just like they design bridges, and computers, and an almost endless list of things we rely on every day. Kansas businesses also make a lot of money exporting things like airplanes, wind turbines and farm machinery.

Problem is – there aren’t enough engineers in Kansas.

I was in Hesston before I came here today and heard leaders from Cessna, Hawker-Beechcraft, and a half dozen other companies talk about how they need more engineers if they’re going to grow their businesses and create jobs.

The engineering schools at KU, K-State and Wichita State are ready to do that, and we’ve gotten great support from senators like Sen. Ruth Teichman for an increase in the number of students we can teach.

We hope the rest of the Legislature will agree, because in addition to meaning more jobs and a growing economy, it would also create some remarkable opportunities for those of you interested in engineering, technology and science.

When you use Google Earth, you’re using a program co-created by KU engineering grad Brian McClendon. When you drive a Ford, it’s from a company led by KU engineering grad Alan Mulally. They transformed their lives and are transforming the world thanks in part to their education.

And it isn’t just engineering that has the power to transform your life.

Three of the most powerful women in the world – Shelia Bair, Cynthia Carroll and Kathleen Sebelius - are all KU graduates. And all of them took advantage of the opportunities their education gave them to transform their lives and change the world.

You have that same opportunity.

As you sit there tonight you have the opportunity to transform your lives.

You have the opportunity to transform the world and change it for the better. To protect the bounty we’ve been given. To heal your neighbors. To build the world of tomorrow. Or to touch lives through art, music and words.

You have that opportunity now, today. But only if you take advantage of it by taking advantage of your education. If the past is any guide – and if like me you take inspiration from the rebirth of this community – I know you will.

Thank you, congratulations and best of luck.



One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.