Outgoing Kent State University President Beverly Warren urged the Class of 2019 to continue to prove their passions through action and to cherish the families they create at the university’s 262nd commencement on Saturday morning.
“J.K. Rowling told another audience that we do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside us already. We have the power to imagine better, and we at Kent State go further. Imagine better, then prove it works. Make your dreams real. Make it matter,” she said.
Warren, who will retire July 1 after five years as Kent’s 12th president, served as the keynote speaker for both the advanced degree commencement ceremony on Friday and the One University Commencement on Saturday.
In addressing Saturday’s graduates, Warren noted that she had tough acts to follow, as the previous two speakers were Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton in 2018 and Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer in 2017. The university paid both speakers $100,000.
“So what do I say to students I love and admire? You are no easy audience. I know you to be savvy and discerning. I know how high you set the bar for authenticity,” she said. “So I decided to talk about you.
“Some skate by with big dreams, but they never execute. That is not you and it is not us. Changing the world begins with finding your passion. Find something you love and then prove it. Just claiming you love something is not enough.”
Warren cited a member of the Kent State marching band, Jennifer Luck, a graduating molecular biologist who enthusiastically took the field with her piccolo in rain and ice storms.
“It’s easy to say you love music, but from Jennifer I learned how much more it means to prove it out in the freezing rain,” Warren said.
She also cited the student initiative Autism Connections, which is “dedicated to the proposition that autism support and acceptance is not about disability but diversity. That wasn’t the administration, that was you. You decided for whom and what to fight for.” Today, she said, Kent State is ranked among the top universities for individuals with autism, like Kalin Bennett, a rising basketball star at Kent.
She also discussed Kent State’s strong sense of family and community, which she felt after her cancer diagnosis and first saw the rock painted with “#BevStrong.”
“I knew I was home. You proved Kent State is a family. You taught me how to accept donations of strength and you lifted my resolve to live day by day.”
But because they have created a family, she said, graduates have also made it difficult for themselves to leave the community.
“If you have loved Kent State and are bittersweet and you are charged up but churning about this transition, I think I know how that goes. I’m there with you. Making a change of this magnitude and evolving away from a place that’s cherished, it doesn’t get easier if you’re doing it right,” she said.
“Whatever comes next, you've got this. Find something you love, find something important to fight for. Imagine something better and make it real. Take comfort in family wherever you find it and wherever you create it. You know how to do this. So as we depart together, I say to you, Godspeed, Class of 2019.”
Over the weekend, Kent State awarded 5,307 degrees, including 901 associate degrees, 3,3436 bachelor’s degrees, 794 master’s degrees, 173 doctoral degrees and three educational specialist degrees. The Class of 2019 represents 61 countries, 41 states and Washington, D.C., and at her final board of trustees meeting, Warren also reported that 1,265 students were graduating with honors and 28 were graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.