Don’t stand down, stand up

Honoree Chely Wright | Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC graduates urged to move the world into the future

More than 2,100 graduates of the University of Missouri-Kansas City claimed newly-minted diplomas over a sun-splashed late-spring weekend in May 2017.

UMKC also awarded honorary doctorates to four commencement speakers, three of which came from the College of Arts and Sciences.

At one of two ceremonies for the university’s largest academic unit, the College of Arts and Sciences, country music star and Kansas City native Chely Wright spoke after being awarded an honorary doctorate. Wright came out publicly as gay in 2007, one of the first artists in the country genre to do so.

“My Midwestern values told me to stand up. But I didn’t. I was paralyzed by fear. I knew if I’d stand up, I’d likely lose my career. But I lost years of my life by fear,” Wright said. “Don’t stand down, stand up. Whatever you do, abide by your convictions, especially in the face of adversity.

“It is you, graduates, who possess the knowledge that will move us all into the future,” she added. “That includes my future. You are now officially in charge of running the world.”

Other honorary degree recipients this year were three alumni: video-gaming pioneer John Carmack, actress/comedian Edie McClurg and automotive engineer William Reinert, who led development and design of the Toyota Prius.

At the ceremony for the School of Computing and Engineering, Carmack told the graduates that they were entering a world of almost limitless possibilities.

“The future is here, and it’s really awesome,” he said. His advice: don’t listen to people who tell you not to reinvent the wheel.

“I would encourage you to try anyway. You’ll be better for the experience, and that’s how we get better wheels.”

Other commencement speakers included Esther George, CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; The Honorable Justine E. Del Muro, Circuit Judge for the 16th Judicial Court, Jackson County, Mo.; Dr. Karen Cox, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Offering Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital; and Warren Erdman, Executive Vice President, Administrative and Corporate Affairs, KC Southern.

Chancellor Leo E. Morton noted that roughly half of all UMKC alumni live and work in the Kansas City area after graduation.

“The contributions and accomplishments of our alumni, more than 100,000 strong, are a civic asset that Kansas City counts on,” he said. “And whether you live and work in Kansas City, or California, or Kyoto, Kansas City, and UMKC, will always be a part of you.”

John R. Phillips, a member of the University of Missouri System Board of Curators, spoke at several of the ceremonies.

“You are now a part of the history and long-standing tradition of excellence for which this campus is known. Create your own legacy but always remember the place you’ve called home for the last several years,” Phillips said. “Treasure this foundation and build wisely. Use your knowledge and your passion for learning to not only realize your potential, but to improve the world that we all share.”