Kudos and Counsel

Top photo by Robert Steckmest. Slide show photos by Janet Rogers, John Carmody and Robert Steckmest, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

Class of 2015 feted with acclaim, advice

More than 2,000 people made the transition from students to alumni at spring 2015 commencement celebrations at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The university conferred bachelor’s and graduate degrees at 12 ceremonies spread over four days. Commencement speakers praised the graduates for their hard work and perseverance, offered words of inspiration and encouragement, and even offered some practical job-hunting advice.

Commencement speakers included Kansas City Mayor Sly James (School of Education), Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (School of Law), Devon Carney, artistic director, Kansas City Ballet (Conservatory of Music and Dance); and Lynette Wheeler, chief operating officer, Truman Medical Centers, Lakewood (School of Nursing and Health Studies). Several distinguished alumni also spoke at ceremonies, including Mary Daly, senior vice president for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (College of Arts and Sciences); Timothy G. Mitchell, pharmacist and pharmacy owner (School of Pharmacy); David Westbrook, senior vice president for strategy and innovation at Children’s Mercy (School of Computing and Engineering); and Julie Wilson, senior vice president and chief people officer at Cerner Corp. (Henry W. Bloch School of Management). Two UMKC deans also spoke at their schools’ commencement: Steven L. Kanter, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine; and Marsha Pyle, DDS, M.Ed., dean of the School of Dentistry.

Mayor James asked the Education graduates to focus on the future.

“Having your education is a tremendous achievement, but what you do with it now is the true measure of your labors,” James said. He referred to the story of Prof. Sydney Engelberg of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, who provided some unusual assistance to a student in his class. The incident was captured in a photo that spread quickly around the globe via the internet.

The student, stuck without a sitter, took her baby to class so she would not miss the lecture. As the child began to cry, she apologized to the class and started to leave. Engelberg stopped her, took the baby and comforted it, and continued to lecture while holding the baby in one arm.

“The lesson being taught there wasn’t necessarily on the blackboard,” James said. “It was about a teacher seeing a student in need but with a strong desire to learn, and that teacher going the extra mile to support that student’s quest for education.”

Across the country, and especially in the urban core, “I see a need for more teachers, more professors, willing to go that extra mile,” James said. “I’m here today to tell you that you can go that extra mile, and to ask you to do so.

“Education is a game changer, especially in the urban core,” he added. “Educators are the ones who can truly level the playing field.”

At the Bloch School ceremony, Wilson, a former UMKC varsity athlete and member of the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame, urged the graduates to accept responsibility.

“There’s a phrase we use at Cerner whenever we talk about making meaningful change. That phrase is, ‘It starts with me,’ “ Wilson said. She led the graduates in repeating the phrase.

“I hope each and every one of you feels the same way about your future. Wherever my path leads, it starts with me,” she said.

She counseled the graduates that creating and following a plan is important, but to temper planning with an open mind and the ability to adjust.

“I believe it is important to have a vision for where you want to go and what you want to be. I also believe there is no perfect path to get there,” Wilson said. “Be flexible and open to a range of possibilities.”

At two College of Arts and Sciences ceremonies, Daly focused on “three things I wish I’d known when I sat where you are, and the three things I have learned along the way that have made my life wonderful, both professionally and personally.”

What she wished she had known at her graduation:

“Successful people are not exceptional. There’s nothing other-worldly about them.” Their success stems from “a simple recipe: they worked hard, took risks, sought to make a contribution, and above all else, made themselves vulnerable to the possibility of great failure and thus the potential for great accomplishment.

“Everyone, no matter how successful they appear, has moments of doubt. … They are indications that you are stretching and growing and doing new things. So just keep going.

“Learning doesn’t end with a degree. Education is a life-long process. As such you will always need great teachers, they’re just called mentors once you graduate. Seek them out, pester them to take you on.”

And what she has learned since: “Three simple things: Be curious. Be gracious. Be yourself.”

“Graduating from UMKC was the proudest day of my life,” Daly concluded. “It remains the proudest day of my life. Because it was my biggest accomplishment. Every accomplishment after that has been great, but that was the biggest. It was my first. I hope it’s as important for you, because it’s a great feeling.”

Graduation festivities began with an important UMKC tradition: the Honors Breakfast. Seventeen members of the Class of 2015 were cited for special honors as among the university’s most esteemed graduates.

The students have been named as either Trustee Scholars or Vice Chancellor’s Honor Recipients. As a salute for high academic achievement, community service and leadership, the students, their families, friends and university officials gathered for a special breakfast.

The Vice Chancellor’s Honor Recipients are nominated by faculty or staff during their senior year. The Trustees Scholars go through a rigorous application and interview process while in high school; each selected scholar is sponsored by a member of the UMKC Trustees, a group of Kansas City business and civic leaders who serve as an advisory board to the university. Trustees Scholars receive a full scholarship as well as mentoring experiences.

The Class of 2015 Trustees Scholars are Landon Berry, Kathleen Brueggemann, Elaine Eason, Ivan Figueroa, Alaina Shine, and Mia Sutton.

The Vice Chancellor’s Honor Recipients for 2015 are Gloria Britez Scolari, Jordan Brooks, Lexy Cockrell, John Kaleekal, Lara Kerwin, Brandon Kratz, Megan Litzau, Puanani Norwood, Mary Margaret Pearman, Maria Uloko and Andrew Wrisinger.


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