Baker University president tells graduates to enact positive change wherever they go

Baker University Marshal Joe Watson leads the traditional commencement march across the school's Baldwin City campus to Collins Gymnasium, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Following Watson was the Kansas City St. Andrew Pipes and Drums and members of the graduating class.

Baker University track coach Ryan Pitts congratulated his senior athletes Sunday for crossing a different kind of finish line as they made the traditional march across the school’s Baldwin City campus to their commencement.

“This is the best part of being a coach,” he said as he called out the names of his team members for a hug or handshake. “I tell my athletes every year if they don’t leave here with a diploma, they didn’t succeed.”

The 178 Baker graduates who entered Baker’s Collins Gymnasium for the school’s Class of 2017 graduation had succeeded in that task. Baker University President Lynne Murray challenged the bachelor degree graduates from Baker’s college of arts and science and schools of education and nursing to continue the growth they displayed in the last four years when they transformed from shy freshmen to confident “young people on the precipice of success.”

Baker University graduate Brittany Windom receives a hug with her degree from school President Lynne Murray, Sunday, May 21, 2017. She was one of 178 students from the Baker's college of arts and science and schools of education and nursing who received bachelor's degrees Sunday at ceremonies on the university's Baldwin City campus.

“Today as you are embarking on your new adventure, you serve as true examples that Baker builds champions; we build achievers and ultimately leaders,” Murray said in her opening remarks. “You join a distinguished group of alumni that spans the globe, who never cease to innovate and always enact positive change wherever and whenever necessary.”

Change was also the theme Kharon Brown shared with his classmates in his commencement address as senior class president. Citing the words of former President Barack Obama, Brown said the graduates shouldn’t wait for change to happen at another time or for someone else to lead the effort.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for; we are the ones we seek,” he said. “My brothers and sisters, we have the duty to use our knowledge and our strengths to become the aid to change that this nation needs us to be.”

Change wasn’t impossible or improbable, Brown said, but simply difficult.

It was his hope the class would stay connected as it made positive contributions to society, Brown said. The class came together through trying experiences, including the loss of his friend and football teammate Sione Maumau during the class’ sophomore year. It was a difficult time that strengthened class bonds, he said.

“Although his death was a terrible tragedy, I believe it was the loss of his live and wonderful smile that brought us together as a class,” he said. “He changed us. We learned to appreciate one another.”

Commencement speaker Tricia Stewart Shiu acknowledged that graduates probably wondered who she was and what she did to earn the right to speak to them. The 1987 Baker graduate and authority of award-winning young adult fiction said the answer was that she was a “nobody.”

“For that reason alone, I am probably one of the most qualified people to deliver the message I’m about to deliver to you today,” she said. “My gift to you today isn’t about who other people think you are. It’s about who you know you are, and about being so comfortable in that knowledge that you can do exactly what you are meant to do while you’re on this earth. Remember this when there is absolutely nothing to prove: a relative nobody can change the world.”

Shiu counseled the graduates on a theme of her writing: trusting in intuition through listening to thoughts that keep demanding their attention, and to be proud and own their own strangeness as a way to give themselves power. Among her tips to the graduates was a warning against judging themselves or others by status or income because circumstances change — as they had with her — and to understand challenges that did not scare them might not be worth their time.

After the commencement with diploma in hand, graduate Blake Edwards reflected on the various speakers’ messages of change. He found in Baker a school with the intimate environment of his hometown of Liberal, he said. With a degree in accounting and business, he has taken a job with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Milwaukee.

“That will be quite a change,” he said. “I’m ready. Baker has given me a lot of confidence.”

Edwards said he left Baker determined to make changes on a bigger scale.

“I want to make the world a better place,” he said.

Graduate Brittany Bartak said she hopes to affect change with her first job, which will definitely make a big change in her life. A graduate in elementary education, she will leave in August to a position in the southeastern European country of Kosovo.

“It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m eager to get on with it,” she said. “I’m be there at least three years, maybe more.”