GEOFFREY S. MEARNS SCRIPT
2014 FALL CONVOCATION
9 AM, FRIDAY, AUGUST 15, 2014
GREAVES CONCERT HALL

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be with you today, and it is a privilege to serve as the president of Northern Kentucky University. As I begin my third year, I will continue to honor your trust with my best efforts.

Sue, thank you for your kind introduction. And thank you for deciding to pursue your professional aspirations with us. I look forward to serving with you.

 

Ken, thank you and your talented students for that wonderful performance. I enjoyed seeing the show with my family last spring. And it was great to see this encore performance today.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give them another round of applause.

Jonathan, your presentation was also excellent. Congratulations on receiving this honor. You are an inspiration to our students and to all of us.

Let's give Professor Reynolds another round of applause.

Jonathan, your presentation was also excellent. Congratulations on receiving this honor. You are an inspiration to our students and to all of us.

Let's give Professor Reynolds another round of applause.

I join the Provost in recognizing the Board of Regents. I also want to welcome our newest Regent, John Jose. John is an undergraduate student majoring in Organizational Leadership.  He is also the president of our Student Government Association.

John, I wish you the best in your new role.

I also want to recognize Regent Terry Mann, who was just reappointed to our Board by Governor Beshear. Terry is now beginning his 7th year of service. Welcome back, Terry. Thank you for your dedication. 

I am grateful to all of the Regents for their continued support of me and their service to our University.

I also want to recognize Josh Tunning. Josh received his undergraduate degree in Political Science from NKU in 2013. He is currently a student in our Masters of Public Administration program.

Two weeks ago, Governor Beshear appointed Josh to a position on the Council of Postsecondary Education.  That’s a prestigious appointment, because Josh will be the only student on the Council.  So, he will represent all of the students in the entire Kentucky postsecondary system.  Congratulations, Josh. Please stand, so that we can recognize you.

Now, Josh, as you may have heard, I have been quite vocal in letting your CPE colleagues know that state support for our students is inadequate.  I have explained to them how the CPE can solve this problem – how the CPE can advance the best interests of all Kentucky students – by developing a new rational funding model. If you need any more information on that issue, please let me know. I am here for you.

To our staff, faculty and students – to all of you – thank you for joining me this morning.

I am grateful for your continuing commitment to our University.

I would like to begin my remarks where I concluded my presentation at the Spring Budget Address, when I shared my daughter Clare’s decision to attend NKU.

As I said at that time, Clare was accepted to several outstanding universities, including NKU. She was accepted into our honors program.

In April, I explained some of the context for Clare’s decision to enroll at NKU.  When we decided to move here two years ago, Clare was sad to leave her home and her friends.  And she resented me and the University for uprooting her and our family. Over time, though, as Clare learned more about our University, her sentiments changed.

As a junior at Highlands High School, she took an advanced French class at NKU, and she liked it.

Clare also met our Presidential Ambassadors when they had dinner at our home. And she met more students at plays, sporting events, and other activities on campus.

She also met many faculty, staff, and alumni when they came to our home for various events. And she even listened to me when I told my family at dinner about all of the good things happening at NKU.

Here is what Clare told me in April about her decision.

“Dad, when you told us that we were going to move because there was something special happening at NKU, I really didn’t believe you – I didn’t want to believe you.”

“But now, I do.  I believe that there’s something special happening at NKU – and I want to be a part of it.”

As I said in April, Clare is right – something special is happening here at Northern Kentucky University.

Clare is not the only incoming student who shares this sentiment – who wants to be a part of something special.

Let me tell you a little bit about two other incoming freshmen who demonstrate that our University is becoming the first choice for so many students.

The first is Austin Mayfield, who is from Martinsville, Indiana.  Austin already knows the advantages of studying abroad – including how it can change your life. As a high school sophomore, Austin attended school in Taiwan for a year. This experience led him to choose to major in international studies.

Austin decided to enroll at NKU because he was impressed with our international studies program and the many opportunities we provide for students to study in other countries.

Austin also chose his major based on something a fellow exchange student said to him: “We should strive to make our world a little bit smaller, so that we can all understand our neighbors a little better, and leave the world a little happier. That's the legacy I'm hoping to leave.”

Even before he attends his first class, Austin embodies our mission to prepare our students to live in a global society – in an interconnected world.

Megan Carroll graduated fourth in her class at Newport High School. Choosing NKU was an easy decision for her – our University has always felt like home, because of the field trips her school took to our campus.

On Monday, Megan will begin earning a degree in elementary education. After she graduates, Megan plans to teach at a school in Northern Kentucky, so that she can give back to the community she loves.

Megan is already giving back in many ways. She prepares meals for parents and children at the Ronald McDonald House, she volunteers at Newport Primary School, and she has helped raise money to build a school in Africa. She focuses on youth-based projects, because “the future starts with our youth.” 

Megan is already living a meaningful life and contributing to her community, qualities we see seek to nurture in all of our students.

At NKU, we aspire to prepare all of our students for fulfilling careers and meaningful lives.  With their talents and values, I am confident that Austin and Megan are on the path to success and service.

But it isn’t just our new students who appreciate that something special is happening here at our University. I hear that same sentiment expressed by staff, faculty, and alumni as well. And I hear it in our community, throughout our region, and across the Commonwealth.

So what is it that Clare and so many others recognize that is special about NKU?

Well, as you walk across our campus you can see that something special is happening.

You can see a transformation in the renovation and expansion of our facilities.

You can see something special when you walk through our newly renovated Student Success Center, which opened last fall.

You can see something special when you tour Northern Terrace, our newest residence hall, which opened this week.  This new hall is full.  So, this year, we will have about 2,000 students living on campus for the first time in our University’s history.

You can see something special when you visit the newly renovated Norse Commons, which also opened this week. We invested $3M to upgrade the dining hall.  This investment will visibly and tangibly improve the experience for students living in the Residential Village.

You can also see something special in the newly renovated entrance to Norse Commons. This beautification project was designed by our students to create a more attractive, vibrant entrance to the dining hall.  And the new boulder that we put there at their request will soon become a rallying point for school spirit.

You can also see something special in the renovation and expansion of our recreation center. When the $43M project is completed next fall, you will see an extraordinary facility that has doubled in size and that has the features to improve the health and wellness of all of the members of our University community.  

Over the next year or two, you will also see something special emerge from the open field on Nunn Drive between the soccer stadium and Route 27.  In the next few months, we will announce a partnership with a private company to build a major commercial development that may include a hotel, a restaurant, retail shops, office space, and an apartment complex.  If our plans proceed as anticipated, this development will be completed in 2016 – and it will become an outstanding main entrance to the University. 

And, then, in 2017, the region – indeed, the nation – will see something very special when we open our $97M health innovations center.

This new facility will incorporate an integrated portfolio of programs to prepare healthcare professionals and to provide solutions to the health and wellness challenges facing the Commonwealth and our country.

When our collective efforts successfully translate our ambitious concept into a tangible reality, we all will see significant improvement in the health of our community, the Commonwealth, and our metropolitan region.

To summarize the extraordinary progress that you can and will see:

  • last year, we opened the renovated Student Success Center;
  • this week, we opened a new residence hall and renovated dining hall;
  • in 2015, we will open the renovated and expanded campus recreation center;
  • in 2016, we will complete the US 27 development project;
  • in 2017, we will open the health innovations center;
  • in 2018, we will celebrate our University’s 50th anniversary and the successful completion of our Strategic Plan.

That’s an exciting and compelling trajectory – a special trajectory.

Ladies and gentlemen, you can truly see that something special is happening at NKU.

You can also quantify – you can measure – that something special is happening at NKU.

Indeed, measuring our institutional progress is vital to the successful implementation of our strategic plan.  As you know, we have a compelling plan.  In order to execute the broad strategies articulated in that plan, we have developed a comprehensive array of specific tactics.

Those strategies and tactics are very important.  But they are not sufficient, unless we also have an intentional method to monitor our progress.

That is why we have established a set of metrics that will help us assess our performance – that will help us answer critical questions, such as: Are we enrolling students who are prepared to meet our heightened standards?  Are our students progressing and graduating in a timely manner?  Do our graduates have the critical thinking skills and a passion for learning that will enable them to pursue successful careers and to lead meaningful lives?

At its meeting last May, the Board of Regents approved these metrics and the corresponding targets.  I encourage you to go on our website from time to time, so that you too can monitor our progress.  At our convocation in January, I will share more information on the status of our implementation efforts.

This morning, though, I’d like to share a few examples of how you can measure that something special is happening at our University.

You can quantify our progress with the increase in the number of students who are applying for admission to NKU.

It is a reflection of the quality of our academic programs. It is also the result of a deliberate enrollment strategy that has communicated to outstanding students that NKU should be their first choice for college.

Applications for this Fall increased by 11% compared to last year.  Over the last two years, applications to NKU have increased by 38%.  And I anticipate that we will enroll 125 more freshmen than we did in 2012 – nearly a 6% increase.

You can also quantify the academic quality of our incoming students.  In 2005, the year we implemented admissions standards, the average ACT score of the incoming class was 20.7.  This year, we project that the average ACT score of the incoming class will exceed 23, just as it did last year – making the 2013 and 2014 classes the most academically qualified incoming classes in NKU history.

You can also quantify the increasing diversity of our student body.

This year, the total number of African American students at NKU will increase by more than 3%. And the total number of Hispanic students will increase by more than 12%.

We aspire to be a more diverse and inclusive institution.  These statistics are evidence that we are making progress towards that important goal.

NKU’s success can also be measured in another positive way – by the value of an NKU diploma.

In 2013, Affordable Colleges Online ranked NKU as having the greatest return on investment for students and their families among all of Kentucky’s 114 college and universities.

While attending NKU, our students also have a significant measurable impact on our region’s economy.  Our students spend money on housing, food, transportation, entertainment, clothing and cellphones.

Now, a report by Janet Harrah, senior director of NKU’s Center for Economic Analysis and Development, shows just how much they contribute to the region.

The report, based on a survey conducted by students from the Haile/U.S. Bank College of Business, shows that NKU student spending had a direct total economic impact of $270M.  As numbers go, that’s a big one!

Speaking of big numbers, the NKU Foundation has reached an historic high.  Our Foundation’s total assets are now $108M.

This achievement is impressive.  It is attributable to prudent financial management, growing philanthropic support, and a constructive, collaborative relationship between the University and the Foundation.

Through its management of both endowed and non-endowed private resources, the Foundation supports key University initiatives like scholarships and research support.

One special gift that exemplifies this kind of support – and which is contributing to the growth of the NKU Foundation – is a $1M gift from Bruce Lunsford.  Mr. Lunsford, a Chase graduate, is making this extraordinary investment to help the law school create the Lunsford Academy.

The Lunsford Academy is an honors program that incorporates Quantitative Methods, Leadership, and Informatics into the law school curriculum.  More than 70 law students applied for just 12 spots in this program.

The Lunsford Academy will be launched this fall with a symposium on the Future of Legal Education. The Lunsford Academy is one of our responses to the changing nature of the legal practice and to the greater variety of occupations in which law graduates are now employed.

Our progress can also be quantified by a much smaller number – the number 1.

Our Cyber Defense Team finished first in the Midwest Cyber Defense Competition this Spring. The team finished sixth in the national finals.

Alex Smith, an NKU senior who is majoring in marketing, finished first in the 2014 Marketing Pinnacle Awards sponsored by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Marketing Association.

Our Music Preparatory Department was recently recognized as the best program in our area for music instruction. The department has continued to innovate and excel in recent years. Under the direction of Dr. Amy Gilingham, the NKU String Project has also gained national recognition for creativity in teaching and learning, and as part of the National String Project Consortium.

NKU students are also earning national and international recognition.

Chris Hammann, who is majoring in Social Work, was named by the American Council on Education as the 2013 “Adult Learner of the Year.” This award is a national honor. 

Chris is a Marine Corps veteran and president of our veterans student organization. Chris is also a husband, a father of three, and a heavy equipment operator in our facilities management department.

Chris and several of his colleagues in our facilities management department are here with us this morning. They continue to make our campus more beautiful every day.

Let’s give them all a round of applause.

And then there’s Douglas Gautraud, an NKU junior. His extraordinary achievement is a short film he made called “My Mom’s Motorcycle.” [Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0DsvpE9aOk]  

Douglas entered his film in an international film contest this Spring.  The contest received 1,100 entries from people in 76 countries.  When he submitted his film, he felt he had created something special. But he didn’t anticipate the overwhelming response it would get from people around the world.  Douglas’ film has now been viewed nearly 1.7 million times on YouTube.

Douglas’s film was the winner of the People’s Choice Prize. His film received more votes than any other entry.

I have seen Douglas’s film several times, and it is very moving. Its message is timeless. In the film, he recalls some of the things that his grandfathers left behind after they died.  Those possessions reminded him of his grandfathers, and he believed that he needed something tangible – a thing – in order to enjoy a full life.

So, Douglas bought a motorcycle. It was exciting and fun. But he soon realized that the motorcycle wasn’t going to provide what he was looking for. He was yearning for something more truly meaningful. He realized why he was inspired by his grandfathers: "I didn’t love and respect them for their accomplishments or the times they lived in.  I love and respected them for what they gave to others.”

Douglas has brought international recognition to our University.  And that’s one more very special thing that is happening at Northern Kentucky University.

Douglas couldn’t be with us this morning, but his mom, Peggy, is here.  Peggy please stand so that we can recognize you.

I learned in Douglas’ film that he has not yet completed his studies. But I know that is one of his next goals.

In fact, one of the most important metrics for our collective success is the number of students who graduate.

This past year, we graduated nearly 3,000 students, the largest number in our University’s history. These men and women came to NKU from across the Commonwealth and from around the world.

For the past academic year, the total number of degrees we conferred increased by 2.1% over the previous year, with a 1.6% increase in the number of bachelor’s degrees and a 4.9% increase in master’s degrees.

Over the past 10 years, the number of degrees we have conferred increased by 40%. That number compares very favorably with the statewide increase, which is 21%. In fact, our 10-year increase in degrees conferred is the highest percentage of any institution in the Commonwealth. That is truly something special.

But these numbers only tell part of the story. For embedded within these statistics are hundreds of individual women and men. Each of these graduates has a unique story.

You can feel the enthusiasm of our students as they cross the stage at commencement. Before thousands of proud parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, classmates, professors, and friends — they become our latest success story.

Let me share the stories of two students who graduated in May.

When Rachel Logsdon crossed the stage that day, she personified unwavering resilience. She first enrolled at NKU in 1993. She returned to NKU in 2002, and then again in 2012. Throughout this period, Rachel battled and defeated Stage III breast cancer in order to earn her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a 3.4 GPA.

True to her optimistic nature, Rachel wrote a book, The Gown Opens in the Front. This book is a humorous look at breast cancer, its treatment, and the challenges and her triumphs along the way. She frequently speaks about breast cancer, coping with bipolar disorder, and clinical depression. [Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/Gown-Opens-Front-Rachael-Logsdon/dp/1935122207#]  

Rachel didn’t graduate within six years, which is the current benchmark for determining an institution’s graduation rate. To some bureaucrats, Rachel doesn’t count as a success. To me, she’s a hero.

When I shook the hand of Mayra Guzman Orozco at our Commencement in May, I knew her story and the challenges she had overcome to earn her degree.

When she was in high school, Mayra and her family emigrated to our country from Guadalajara, Mexico. At that time, Mayra was unable to speak any English. So, she translated her homework word for word from English to Spanish and then back to English.

At NKU, Mayra became both an outstanding student and a determined advocate for immigration rights. She helped transform our University into a more accepting and inclusive community. Mayra earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, graduating with a 3.83 GPA.

Mayra’s grandparents traveled from Guadalajara to see her receive her diploma. Though they spoke no English, the pride and joy they felt as their granddaughter walked across the stage was evident by the smiles on their faces – and the tears in their eyes.

In many ways, our success can be measured.  In other ways, though, we can’t see or quantify our collective impact.

But you can experience it – and these experiences prove that something special is happening at NKU.

It is the experience of attending the many wonderful events that take place on campus.

A few minutes ago, we had the pleasure of watching our students perform two songs from Spamalot. Year in and year out, our Department of Theatre and Dance produces plays and musicals that earn critical acclaim. This past year was no exception.

The League of Cincinnati Theatres described Spamalot as “an exuberant, rambunctious, outrageous show…full of fun, irreverent, envelope-pushing silliness.”

Spamalot was nominated by the League for awards in eight different categories, including for Best Musical and Best Ensemble in a Musical.

Here at NKU, you can also experience Division One athletic competition.

For example, you can attend a cross country event and experience the thrill seeing of J.J. Weber win another race. J.J., who is a nursing major, won the Atlantic Sun’s Men’s Cross Country Championships, becoming our first conference champion in the Division One era.

You can watch the men’s soccer team, which posted the best overall regular season record of any A-Sun soccer team this past season. They finished second in the conference.

You can experience a tradition of success when you attend a women’s basketball game. The team had a winning record for the 31st consecutive season, and our women recorded our University’s first post-season win in Division One competition.

Our women’s basketball team also earned national recognition when it was named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Academic Top 25 Team Honor Roll. Our team had the 15th-best GPA among all NCAA D-I teams - with a 3.5 overall GPA.

This past year, 148 of our student-athletes received the A-Sun All-Academic awards, and nine were selected to A-Sun Academic All-Conference teams, which honor the combination of academic and athletic success.

By attending an athletic event, you can also experience student-athletes who play with integrity.

For example, our women’s soccer team epitomizes this spirit. The team was again presented with the Team Ethics and Sportsmanship Award – one of just 37 Division One programs in the country.

This season will bring more opportunities to experience great competition. All of our teams are now eligible to compete in the A-Sun postseason championships.

And, if you are not able to attend an NKU game, you can still experience the excitement of watching our athletes compete wherever you are.  That’s because, in just a few months, you will be able to watch our teams compete live on ESPN3.  So, if you have a lap top or a smart phone, or if you know how to connect your home computer to your television, you can sign up for ESPN3 and watch hundreds of NKU games – both home and away.

Now that’s something special that you can experience as an NKU fan.

One final note about athletics and our move to Division One. We’re halfway through the four-year reclassification process.  This year, we will conduct a year-long, campus-wide self-study of our athletics program as part of the NCAA Division One Institutional Performance Program.

The steering committee, which is chaired by Sue Hodges Moore, will evaluate our governance process and our commitment to rules compliance, academic integrity, and gender, diversity and student-athlete well-being.  In the next few weeks, you’ll hear more about the IPP process, and I encourage you to participate.

I have shared some ways in which you can experience something special at NKU.

For our students, opportunities for experiential learning continue to expand. These real-world experiences are essential to our mission to prepare students for a fulfilling career and a meaningful life.

Let me share a few examples of experiential learning.

In 2013, students in our Center for Applied Informatics logged 63,000 hours of applied research and development for businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits in our region – and from California to Switzerland — all without leaving campus.

This program benefits both our students and those organizations. Students get practical experience, decent pay, and access to potential employers. Businesses get cutting-edge tech talent and innovative solutions at an affordable cost – and a chance to connect with possible employees.

NKU’s commitment to undergraduate research is also stronger than ever. This past spring, more than 750 students prepared posters and delivered oral presentations and other creative work at our Celebration of Student Research and Creativity. These students were mentored by more than 130 of our faculty members.

Each year, more and more NKU students are also embracing experiences that show them what it means to be fully engaged citizens.

Drug treatment, tutoring, homeless shelters, AIDS awareness, and hunger – these are just a few of the many causes that our students are helping to support by working with community agencies.

Through the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, more than 3,000 NKU students have helped to award nearly $860,000 to more than 300 agencies.

Professor Julie Olberding has conducted research that shows that our graduates who took a Mayerson class are much more likely to volunteer, donate money, and serve on a nonprofit board than the average college graduate.

Through another real-world opportunity, “Project Hope: The 505 Initiative,” our students are offering assistance to a disadvantaged neighborhood. Our students support Newport’s west side, an area that is struggling with low education rates, and high poverty and unemployment. Students experience service learning, research, independent study, and volunteering opportunities.

Beyond our campus and our region, NKU students are applying their talents in many different areas of the world. Let me give you one final example of a very special experience that our students can have.

Under the supervision of Dr. Sharyn Jones, an Anthropology professor, our students went on anthropological and archaeological excavation trip to Fiji this summer to conduct research.

During this project, students camped on the beach in Fiji for four weeks. The students woke just before sunrise, and they spent their days excavating an archaeological site or conducting interviews in local villages. Our students experienced one of the more isolated cultures of the world. During their time in Fiji, the students did not have access to running water, electricity, or Facebook.

When they returned from Fiji, students completed research projects and analyzed the artifacts. They also gave lectures to the community and engaged in public outreach to share their findings and to teach others about social science and Fijian culture.

Professor Jones says that intensive field research isn’t for everyone. But for those students who engaged in this experiential learning research program, it was “a pretty mind-blowing experience.”

One of her students said, “I am forever grateful for Dr. Jones taking me out of my personal comfort zone and creating room for growth and for learning experiences one could never gain from inside any university classroom. Not only have I learned and practiced archaeology, but I have also learned about my personal strengths and weaknesses.”

Now, that’s a special – a very special experience.

Professor Jones and some of the students who traveled with her to Fiji this past summer are here this morning. I am pleased that you enjoyed this extraordinary experience. And I am really glad that you returned home safely.

I continue to be impressed with the achievements of our students, our faculty, and our staff – and our graduates. I know that our best days lie ahead.

But I have come to realize that too many other people don’t know that something special is happening at NKU. Too often, I hear that we are “the best kept secret” in the Commonwealth, or that our university is a “hidden gem.”

It’s great to be a gem.

But it’s not good to be hidden. And it is not good to be a secret.

So, to increase awareness in our region and throughout the state, we are implementing two initiatives.

First, we have hired Landor, a worldwide marketing firm with a major office in our region.

Landor has begun to assess our current brand and to evaluate our existing marketing strategies.

At the conclusion of this process, Landor will help us to develop a more distinctive brand identity and a more effective strategy to promote our University.

Second, I am taking our “show on the road.” This fall, I will travel throughout Kentucky to tell everybody I can about the very special things that are happening at our University.

I will visit with high school students and their parents. I will meet with elected officials and members of the CPE. I will meet with community, business, and government leaders. We will also host several receptions for alumni and friends of the University.

In a week or two, we will begin a social media campaign to promote our tour of the Commonwealth.  This campaign is called “Road to NKU.” Soon, you can learn more by following the twitter hashtag “RoadtoNKU.” [Follow President Mearns on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PresidentMearns]

You and I know that something special is happening at NKU. My goal is to share that special message with everyone in our Commonwealth.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is something special happening at our University. You can see it, you can measure it, and you can experience it.

You can also feel that something special is happening here. You can’t touch it. But you can feel it in your heart. It’s the spirit of this special place.

This special spirit is not new. Indeed, we can trace this special spirit to the men and women who founded our University – who had the audacity to dream that they could transform farmland into a modern, comprehensive University.

The vision of our founders first became tangible and visible on November 19, 1961, with the opening of the University of Kentucky’s Northern Center in Covington. Seven years later, Governor Nunn signed a law that would transform the center into Northern Kentucky State College, which then became Northern Kentucky University.

At the original dedication in 1961, many elected officials spoke with optimism that a $1M investment in the extension center would pay dividends for the people of Northern Kentucky.

There was one official, though, who was unable to attend the ceremony. But he sent a telegram. This telegram was read at the dedication.

Here’s a quote from that telegram: "The education advantages provided by the center are not only vitally important to the area it will serve, but will make a significant contribution to the progress of education throughout the nation, as well."

This official also urged for “high purpose and unrelenting work to off-set the countless challenges of the years to come.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that government official was President John F. Kennedy.

I share this part of our history because it proves that something special began at this institution on a cold November morning in 1961.

There was something special then, and there is something special happening here right now.

This special spirit lives today.  It is a selfless, determined spirit that drives a young man named Luis Loza, and it motivates a woman named Pauline Campbell.

Luis is a sophomore here at NKU. Luis grew up in Elliott County in eastern Kentucky.  In high school, he was a good student and a good athlete. But he was not able to share his high school achievements with his mother, Maria. Seven years ago, Maria went to Mexico to visit her family, but she was not permitted to return to the United States.  

Fortunately, Luis and his brother Armando were adopted by their caretaker, Pauline Campbell, who has raised them ever since as if they were her own children.

In Maria’s absence, Luis remained committed to doing well in school and to saving for college. He took any job offered to him: hay stacker…tutor…painter…house cleaner…landscaper.

Despite all of his hard work, Louis struggled to make ends meet. As a result, Luis cut back on the number of classes he took at NKU, and he considered whether he should take time off from school to work full time.

This spring, though, Pauline encouraged Luis to apply for the Scholarship America Dream Award, a national scholarship for financially needy students who have overcome barriers and who have successfully started their college education.

In May, Pauline and Luis were notified that he was one of only 12 students in the country to win this scholarship. Luis and the other scholarship winners were introduced to the nation on May 23 on a television show hosted by Katie Couric.

The scholarship will pay for about half of Luis’s expenses through graduation. Pauline has decided that she and her brother will pay for the other half. This extraordinary commitment will enable Luis to focus full-time on earning dual degrees in electrical engineering and in mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology.

Luis’s short-term goals are to get excellent grades and to earn his degree.  His long-term goals are even more ambitious: "With my education and career, I hope to make my adoptive family and my real family come together and be one."

Pauline knows that her adopted son will reach those goals: “Luis is driven to succeed, and that comes from me and from inside himself. We told him since he was little how we wanted him to get an education and make something of himself."

Pauline also explained why she chose to adopt Luis and Armando. Simply put, it was the right thing to do. “They were here in the United States and they had nobody to help them. I just felt it in my heart. It was a big commitment, and we went through some hardship, but it has been rewarding.”

Luis, Armando, and their adopted mother, Pauline, are here today.

Please stand, so that we can show you that your determination and your love are an inspiration to all of us.

The spirit or culture of a university is not something that you can see or touch or hear or measure. 

Rather, the spirit of a university is an emotion that you feel in your heart. 

This spirit is not something that can be produced by a committee. And this spirit is not something that can be proclaimed from a podium by a president or by a provost.

Instead, a spirit emerges from the countless, daily, dedicated acts of the members of the university community – acts that are taken to advance our common mission, and acts that are guided by our core values. That spirit grows and thrives when it is respected, when it is honored, and when it is cherished.

Today, right here at our university, that special spirit lives. And you can feel it.

So, as I close, I ask you to do two things.

Today and over the weekend, please take just a moment to reflect on what makes our university special to you. Pause to recognize that we are fortunate to be members of this special university community. And remember that each one of us has an obligation to nurture and sustain that special spirit. 

And then, on Monday morning, return with me to this special place as we embark on another good year. And then let’s go to work.

Thank you.