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UMB was privileged to host a number of honored guests and speakers at the 2015 Commencement ceremony on May 15.
Chancellor William E. Kirwan, PhD
In the final months of an extraordinary career in higher education, William E. “Brit” Kirwan, PhD, could be excused for wanting to do some reminiscing. Those attending UMB’s commencement program on May 15 at Royal Farms Arena shouldn’t expect any long-winded speech from the University System of Maryland chancellor, however.
He’s aware the stars of the show are the graduates, not him.
“Brevity is not just ‘the soul of wit,’ it is also important for commencement addresses,” says Kirwan, who will serve as UMB’s keynote speaker. “People are not there to hear the speakers. They are there to celebrate the achievements of the graduates.”
After more than a half-century in higher education, Kirwan has observed and given his share of commencement addresses so he knows the choice of words matters.
“It is important for the commencement speaker to capture the importance of the moment in the lives of the graduates,” Kirwan says, “and inspire them about their potential to make a difference in the world.”
Kirwan certainly has a made a difference. A nationally recognized authority on critical issues shaping higher education, Kirwan served as president of Ohio State University for four years (1998-2002) and president of the University of Maryland, College Park for 10 years (1988-1998). Prior to his presidency, he was a member of the University of Maryland faculty for 24 years. He is a sought-after speaker on a wide range of topics, including diversity, access and affordability, cost containment, innovation, higher education's economic impact, academic transformation, and financial aid.
Currently, Kirwan chairs the National Research Council Board of Higher Education and Workforce and co-chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. He also serves on the Business-Higher Education Forum. He has chaired the boards of several higher education advocacy and policy organizations, including the American Council on Education and the National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Institutions (now known as the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities).
In Maryland, Kirwan is a member of the boards of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Greater Baltimore Committee, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
Among his awards and honors are the 2010 TIAA-CREF Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the 2009 Carnegie Corporation Leadership Award. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also has received awards from both houses of the Maryland General Assembly, Maryland State Department of Education, and the Greater Baltimore Committee. One of his more recent honors is the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in Education Award from the Tech Council of Maryland.
Yet Kirwan says being asked to be UMB’s commencement speaker is a thrill. “Mostly I felt deeply honored to be asked because of my enormous respect for the University … its quality and its impact on our state and nation.”
President Jay A. Perman, MD, who returned to UMB after being dean at the University of Kentucky medical school, which Kirwan’s father helped to create, also is overjoyed to have Kirwan as the keynote speaker.
“Brit’s one of the most respected leaders in higher ed,” Perman says. “Yet he’s always been there for me with wise counsel — at the beginning, middle, and end —and I hope that relationship continues even after he leaves the chancellorship [on July 1]. I know I can go to him for advice on knotty problems, and I don’t want that to go away.”
Kirwan returns the compliment, saying though he is close to all USM institutions, UMB holds a special place. What sets UMB apart?
“Its mission,” Kirwan says. “All USM institutions have service to the larger community as an important part of their activities. But UMB alone has improvement in society’s health and well-being as its primary focus. This makes the institution so very special and indispensible to our state.”
Additional Speakers and Honorees
“My goal is to support and show others the way to achieve dreams and goals in their lives that they never imagined having the ability to achieve.”
He says his greatest feat is the success of his students. "Over 270 are professors at universities all over the world. Many others have started companies, become CEOs, and successful business people.”
“It is a great pleasure to see the growth of students as they develop into full-fledged scientists and colleagues. My trainees have gone on to become faculty at various schools and physician-scientists in academic centers, both in the U.S. and internationally.”
"My case tore down barriers not only in the School of Nursing but in the remaining professional schools at UMB, at the undergraduate program at University of Maryland in College Park and later in various schools throughout the city.”
“I see myself as beginning to write another chapter in the book or books of my life, which I trust will be filled with new experiences, new opportunities to serve, and new challenges. That is exciting.”
“Simple communication is the key to being a great dentist, and that’s ultimately what I hope to do on May 15 — communicate with my colleagues, their friends and family, and with the professors of our University.”