Hello again, Jayhawks!
Well, it is almost here — the moment you have been working toward. The moment you officially become graduates of the University of Kansas.
I suspect you are feeling a range of emotions today. First and foremost, I suspect you are excited to begin the next chapter of your lives. I hope you are proud — because you have worked hard to earn a degree. I hope you are happy — because you have transformed yourself during your time here. And believe it or not, I hope you are a bit sad. Because if you are sad today, that means you have had meaningful relationships and experiences at KU. And it probably means that, at some point, this place felt like home.
I can talk about these conflicting emotions with some confidence because, like you, I too will soon be making a change, as I step down as chancellor this summer. And like many of you, I am feeling a combination of excitement, pride, happiness and sadness.
You see, higher education changed my life — most recently as a university researcher and administrator — but before that as a student. Neither of my parents attended college. In fact, when I applied to college, neither of my parents had even finished high school. But even though they hadn’t gone to college, my parents emphasized the power of education. It is because of their support that I had the opportunity to transform my life through higher education.
So when I talk about the transformative power of education, I’m talking about it as a university administrator, but also from the perspective of a young girl from a segregated town in North Carolina whose life was forever changed by the opportunity to go to college.
The University of Kansas is a special place with amazing people and an instinctive spirit to improve the world. Leading this remarkable institution for the past eight years is a privilege I will always cherish, and I’m grateful to the KU community for believing in our mission and helping us transform this university.
I am especially grateful to you — the students — for all you do to invigorate us, inspire us, and keep us on our toes. Jayhawks, you are the reason we are here. You are the heart and soul of this university. And when you leave here today, you become KU’s most important contribution to society. You become KU’s legacy.
Today, you heard the inspiring story of William McNulty, a KU alumnus whose organization recruits veterans to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters. You heard about his courageous efforts in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake — and how that experience led him to launch Team Rubicon, whose members have performed more than 175 missions around the world.
I want you to think about this for a moment. In the aftermath of disasters, William and his team do what nobody else can do. In moments of destruction and chaos, William and his team provide relief and stability. In moments of despair, William and his team provide hope. When most people are running out, William and his team are running in.
Graduates — that’s what being a Jayhawk is all about.
William — thank you again for being here and making us proud to call you a Jayhawk.
In just a few moments, Jayhawks, you will leave here and begin the next chapter of your lives. Many of you — perhaps most of you — initially will be focused on joining the workforce and pursuing a career. That is wonderful and appropriate.
But when you leave here, I want you to remember our broader hope for you, and our broader mission as a public university. Our goal is not just for you to get a job and pursue a career. Our hope is that you will be active citizens. Compassionate neighbors. Well-rounded human beings. And that you will always recognize truth and pursue it.
Our hope is that when you leave Mount Oread, you are guided by the impulse to improve your communities. Have the courage to pursue a meaningful existence, however you define it. Make a good living, but more importantly, make a good life — for yourself and those around you.
In other words, Jayhawks, when you leave here today, think about William McNulty. Run toward the people in need. Run toward the chaos. Run toward the situations where you can make a difference. Use the knowledge and the sense of civic responsibility you’ve developed at KU to improve those situations, help people and make this world a better place. That’s what makes you human beings. That’s what makes you leaders. And that’s what makes you Jayhawks.
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!