Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

2011 Commencement Address: A Promise to the Future

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Congratulations, graduates!

It is my distinct pleasure to join you as we honor your achievement, and honor the fact that, today, you are all keeping a promise. Indeed, today you're keeping a number of promises, many of which you didn't even know you had made.

Each of you is keeping a promise to your parents and guardians that you would study hard, not stay out too late, and earn the degree you were seeking - and that many of them helped pay for.

A promise to the residents of Kansas, whose taxes go to fund just under a quarter of this university's budget in the expectation that we - and you - will contribute to the life of your state and of society.

And a promise to yourself that all of your work in the classroom, laboratory, clinic and studio will be rewarded with a degree from the University of Kansas.

It's that last promise that we recognize on this day, because it is what motivated you to get to this moment. It motivated you when all the midterms and papers seemed to be due the same day. When you had to work to help pay for school. Or when Monday morning came so much sooner than you expected.

That promise to yourself - to strive to make your dreams real - is important, and it will continue to be so. But each of us also has other obligations that we have made - promises to the future that, as graduates, you must now keep.

At the University of Kansas, we prepare our students for their careers. Your professors and mentors gave you the opportunity to learn the skills and obtain the knowledge you'll need to be successful in your chosen fields. That is vitally important not only to your personal economic success, but to the economic success of our state and nation.

We need skilled graduates to contribute their talents to forge our common prosperity, and that is part of the promise to the future you will be called upon to keep.

But that is not the only promise. Indeed, in many ways, it is not even the most important one, because in addition to preparing you to make a living, it is the mission of this university to prepare you to make a life.

Making a life can take many forms. At its most basic, it means living your life in way that realizes your potential as a human being and contributes to society.

Many of you have already shown your readiness to do just that through your participation in service learning, Alternative Spring Breaks, or any number of other ways of serving your community, wherever that community might be. Many of you have helped raise awareness of the pressing challenges facing our world, from poverty to climate change. Or you've participated in our democracy and supported the efforts of others who seek to do the same in their homelands.

That work must continue if our society is to succeed, and if the opportunity to prosper is to be available to all. And as you go out into that world, you join other Jayhawk graduates who have come before you, and who are keeping their promise to contribute to the common good.

Sheila Bair is chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The money you've saved - or for many of you, the money you plan to save - is protected from bank failure because of the work she is doing. That stability enables you to plan for the future, and our nation to grow.

Brian McClendon is a co-creator of Google Earth, a remarkable tool that, by putting the world at our fingertips, has shown how close we all are. And by providing vivid before-and-after images of disasters from Haiti to Japan to Alabama, it has shown us the fragility of our lives and the fact that tragedy knows no borders.

These are just two of the hundreds of thousands of KU graduates who are living up to their promises to the future by making a life and making a living.

You now join them, taking your place among the Jayhawks who are changing lives all over the world. And you're joined by a graduate who recently wrote to me about a promise she made not to the entire world, but to a single person.

Abby Young graduates today with a master's degree from the School of Social Welfare. But as she walked down the Hill, someone very dear to her was missing. Her husband, Jeffrey Keith Young.

Abby and Jeff had known each other since 8th grade, and they got married in 2003. But a few years after, Jeff was diagnosed with colon cancer. With the support of Abby, his friends and family, Jeff battled for four years, but ultimately died in February 2009 at the age of 32.

Before Jeff passed away, he told Abby how important it was to him that she finish her degree. Despite the heartbreak and the tremendous financial hardships she faced, Abby kept that promise to Jeff and today walked down the Hill as a graduate. Congratulations, Abby.

Not all of our promises are as personal as the one Abby made to Jeff, but all of them should be kept as if they were. So as you leave the stadium today and go off into the world, I hope you will each make one more promise to yourself, to those around you and to the future

A promise that you'll make a good living and a good life, not sacrificing the latter in the hopes of gaining riches or power simply for their own sake.

A promise that you'll be an active member of our society, because we desperately need your talent and ideas if we are to meet the grand challenges of our time.

And a promise that you'll continuously strive to meet the high expectations you have for yourself, today, as you leave Mount Oread.

To help you remember this promise, we're going to do something we've done at the last two Commencements. I want you to get out your smart phones and take a picture of yourself and those around you.

When you've taken it, send it to thehill@ku.edu. We'll put your photos on facebook.com/KU as a reminder of this day, the great potential that you now hold and the promise you're making to yourself and your world to use that potential for good.

Everybody got their photos? Ok, send them to thehill@ku.edu and check KU's Facebook page later today to see them, and in the years to come to remind yourselves of this promise.

All of us here today - your parents and family, your friends, the professors who greeted you as you entered the stadium - have great expectations for each of you. But none of those are greater than the expectations you should have for yourself. Live up to those expectations by making a living and a life, and by keeping your promise to the future.

Congratulations! Best of luck! And Rock Chalk, Jayhawks!



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.