From the straw hat Kansas University Chancellor Bob Hemenway donned during commencement ceremonies to a ceremonial hat all the way from Nigeria, tribute was paid to the many different hats the retiring leader wore both literally and figuratively.
National politicians, students, university officials and even a group of preschoolers gave their thanks, some in person and others via video, for the chancellor’s contributions during his 14-year tenure.
“Bob, on behalf of the people of Kansas, thank you so much for your service to our state,” the newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said. “As you return to teaching and writing, know that KU and Kansas are both stronger and more prosperous because of your work.”
Several hundred people attended Saturday’s recognition at the Lied Center hosted by Bob Dotson of NBC News. Hemenway is set to retire at the end of June.
In a video message, former U.S. Senator Bob Dole told Hemenway that it was his phone call after the 1996 presidential election that persuaded him to house the Dole Institute of Politics in what the senator jokingly dubbed “the hotbed of conservatism, the University of Kansas.”
KU basketball coach Bill Self said the “direction Chancellor Hemenway had our university going” was his reason as much as anything else for coming to KU.
KU Medical Center executive vice chancellor Barbara Atkinson and KU Cancer Center director Roy Jensen both thanked Hemenway for making the university’s top priority the mission of obtaining National Cancer Institute designation for the KU Cancer Center.
And Tom Kern, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, recognized that the chancellor’s work in expanding both the athletic program and bioscience research brought economic growth to the community.
There were also lesser-known figures, such as student Mandy Shriwise, who said one of Hemenway’s seminars changed her beliefs on poverty, which sparked her involvement with the Center for Community Outreach and her participation in the development of the St. Elisia Pre-Nursery School in Tanzania.
Along with the straw hat and Nigerian ceremonial hat, speakers brought a red beret, KU Med Center surgical cap, 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship hat, construction hard hat and the velvet doctoral tam onto the stage.
The hats came directly from his closet, thanks to his wife, Leah, Dotson told the crowd.
Among the most discussed was the red beret, and Dotson pointed out that the chancellor’s earliest e-mail address was firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Let’s face it, not many public universities in the Midwest would expect their new chancellor to arrive wearing a beret,” Dotson said. “Bob told the Lawrence Journal-World then that a beret warded off head colds in the winter and could be conveniently stuffed into a pocket when going indoors.”
Before the Jayhawk mascots took the stage and the KU Marching Band rushed through the auditorium for the grand finale, Hemenway had the opportunity to respond to all those tributes.
“What has transpired here today, to me, represents everything the University of Kansas stands for,” he said in his brief remarks. “We do everything with class and dignity. Thank you very much for letting me be a part of it.”