Finding Purpose and Passion

Photos by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Graduates celebrate at Mid-Year Commencement

More than 600 students received diplomas at two mid-year commencement ceremonies Dec. 19 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson, a UMKC alumnus, was the keynote speaker at both ceremonies.

Gibson told the graduates that their life journey “will not be linear,” but that their UMKC education has prepared them well for whatever awaits them.

“My decision to earn a master’s in economics at UMKC was simply to satisfy intellectual curiosity, but it led me to places I never could have imagined,” he said. A key element was one of his assigned texts: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by the physicist Thomas Kuhn. The book revealed that scientific progress often occurs in great spurts, rather than steadily and gradually, so that “a new way of thinking suddenly opens the door on a world of possibilities.”

“Plan your next move, not your final destination,” Gibson advised. “None of the great men and women of history started out with a plan to get where they got. They took advantage of opportunities that came their way and built upon those experiences.

“Thirty years from now, the world will be different in ways we can’t even imagine. You can’t possibly chart a course to your final destination,” he said. “Act based on the opportunities you have at hand, asking yourself: Is this something I really want to do? And am I working for the right people?

“Find purpose and passion in your life by serving others,” he concluded. “When you serve others, your effort is never wasted and you’ll never run out of opportunities.”

Gibson has served as the deputy secretary since Feb. 2014; he also served as Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs from May 30 to July 30, 2014.

A 1975 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Gibson earned both Airborne and Ranger qualifications and served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He earned a master’s degree in Economics from UMKC and a master’s in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton also spoke at the ceremonies.

“UMKC is an urban university, and as students here, you were asked to tackle serious urban issues head-on,” he said. “Through those experiences, we hope you have learned the importance of extending a helping hand and the value of commitment and contribution to your home community.”

Ida Ayalew, president of the UMKC Student Government Association, told the graduates that they are part of “the generation that will shape the culture of the world.”

She talked about the life lessons she has learned as a Philosophy major and Black Studies minor.

“I’m not sure if many of you are politically engaged. If you are, I’m glad. If you’re not, it’s so important that we know who sits at the table of power and privilege of advocating on behalf of the voices who are not represented,” she said.

Michael Middleton, interim president of the University of Missouri System, spoke at the first of the two ceremonies. He welcomed the graduates to the UM System alumni network “more than 1 million strong.”

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