President Mearns surprises Lee Co. 6th graders Jenna Dunaway & Kennedy Lambert with a campus tour and a trip to the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati to see Cinderella - Read the full transcript of the President's January convocation below

Geoffrey S. Mearns January Convocation Address
9 a.m. | Friday, January 9, 2015 | Student Union Ballroom

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege, today and every day, to serve as the president of Northern Kentucky University.

Thank you for joining me this morning.  And thank you for your service – for your service to our university and to our students.

Speaking of our talented students – that was a wonderful performance. Let's give Katy and Noah another round of applause.

Last year at this Convocation, I had the honor of presenting the new strategic plan. As you know, this plan, Fuel the Flame, will guide us to 2018, the 50th anniversary of the founding of our University.

The provost provided a brief update on the implementation of our plan.  I am pleased with the progress we have made so far, but there is more work to do.  This morning, I am going to talk about some of that work.

Let me provide a bit of context.  At the end of the Fall Convocation, I said that, too often, I’ve heard that our university is a “hidden gem” and “the best kept secret” in the Commonwealth.

I also said that it’s great to be a gem. But we know that it’s not good to be hidden. And it certainly isn’t good to be a secret.

So, I announced that we were going to implement two strategies to increase awareness of our University in our region and throughout Kentucky.

The first initiative is to enhance our brand – to define more clearly who we are, both verbally and visually.  The second initiative is a statewide tour, which we called the “Road to NKU.”

As you will recall, our strategic plan calls for the University to develop and execute a comprehensive marketing, communication, and branding plan.  This past year, with some external assistance, we inventoried our current marketing and branding position. We then conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research, which included responses from more than 600 people.

We surveyed current and prospective students, faculty, staff, donors, alumni, and business and community leaders. These key stakeholders were asked to share their perceptions of NKU. They were also asked to evaluate various descriptions of our University.  These descriptions were aspirational — yet realistic — statements that tell the story of our University.

This feedback was very helpful.

In fact, many of the qualitative responses were insightful and passionate.  Many people emphasized our academic creativity and our innovation — and the need to inform the public about these qualities.  “Get the credit you deserve,” one person said. Another person wrote, “It’s up to us to tell the story we want people to hear and remember.”

A staff member wrote, “Be proud of working and attending NKU. There are dedicated employees and students on campus, and we should all take pride in our University.”

And one faculty member wrote, “NKU is a light in the dark – leading the way to the future.  NKU is also more than just buildings or programs.  It is people – faculty, staff, students and the community at large.”

Together, these responses inform our brand identity.  Let me explain what I mean.

As you know, when we developed our new strategic plan, we articulated our mission, our vision, and our core values.

Our mission statement communicates what we do – why we exist as an institution – our collective purpose.

Our vision articulates our future aspiration – where we are going.

Our core values communicate who we are – how we will do the work that is necessary to achieve our goals.

Our brand is something different.  It’s not a tagline or a slogan.  Instead, our brand is the experience people have with us.  It is how people think about us.  And, perhaps more importantly, it is how people feel about our University.

That rational response and emotional reaction – that experience – that brand – is represented by everything that we do and by everything that we say.  Every contact is important.  From prospective students who explore our website or who visit our campus for the first time to our graduates who hear their name announced as they walk across stage at commencement – every interaction creates that experience.

In order to create an authentic, distinctive brand, we must commit to a promise that aligns with and supports our mission, our vision, and our core values.  This promise must unite all of us in an intentional, focused way of thinking and acting.

We have developed a promise, based on the input we received.


This promise is not new for us.  But in order to maintain the trust of our students and our community, every decision we make must honor this commitment.


In every classroom.  In every department.  Each one of us.  Every task.  Every day.  No exceptions.


This effort is not about individual achievement or temporary success.  Our bold commitment is to transform lives and to elevate our community.

We have prepared a short video that illustrates how this promise can be translated into a vibrant, visual identity.  [VIDEO]

The messaging and visuals that you have just seen will soon begin to be incorporated all across our University – in every communication for every program and every activity.

For many of you, this guidance is very welcome.  For some of you, though, this consistency may present a challenge.  But in order for us to create a clear, compelling brand, it is critical that we be consistent.  Our strength lies in our ability to join forces together.  So, I ask for your cooperation.

And to all of you, I ask that you join me in committing to our promise.  I ask each one of you to light a spark each day – a spark that others can see and that others can feel.

Working together, our individual sparks will merge into a burning flame.  And our University will become that gem that will no longer be hidden – that gem that can no longer be hidden.

Now, let me tell you about the other significant initiative to bring appropriate recognition to our University – the “Road to NKU.”  Over the last several months, along with several of our colleagues, I have been living our University’s promise by sharing our story throughout the Commonwealth.

From late September to early December, we visited seven regions of Kentucky. We traveled from Pikeville to Paducah.  From Ashland to Owensboro.  From Somerset to Lexington.  And from Lee County to Louisville.

During these visits, we met with high school students, guidance counselors, teachers, principals, and superintendents.  We also met with many alumni, community and business leaders, and elected officials.

I proudly told them that our University is on the rise – that something special is happening at Northern Kentucky University.

I told them about our INKUBATOR program.  This program is one of the Top 5 university incubators in the world.  Since its start in 2012, the INKUBATOR program has helped launch more than a dozen student-run companies, and these companies have raised more than $1 million in capital.

I highlighted our reputation for academic innovation and academic excellence.  For example, our undergraduate degree in health science was recently ranked as one of the top 25 degree programs of its kind in the country.

Our University is committed to civic engagement and community service, and the Chase College of Law is a good example.  Our law school was named a Top 10 Law School in the country for promoting pro bono service.  At a time when some lawyers seem preoccupied with advancing their own personal interests, it is very gratifying to know that our law school continues to instill important values that bring respect to the legal profession.

Our Social Work department recently secured a significant $1.5 million grant to study trauma-focused care for children.  This grant will enable our University to enhance our contributions to the behavioral health workforce.

Three months ago, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities announced the inaugural winners in a new awards program honoring member institutions for excellence and innovation.  AASCU honored the Virtual Co-op Program in the Center for Applied Informatics for its success in adapting the traditional co-op education model into an initiative that provides almost all services virtually. The program now engages more than 120 students each year.  Students develop mobile apps, websites, and similar products for more than 200 companies, non-profit organizations, and new businesses.

And just before the holiday break, I received word that our University has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber-Security Education.  Only 20 universities in the country have received this designation.  This status means that our University will now be eligible for enhanced federal research grants in this important area.

At the outset of each presentation, I displayed this graphic, which shows our growth and impact. [CHART].  I told them that, with the opening of Northern Terrace, we now have 2,000 students living on campus.

I also highlighted our average class size of 24 students, which is similar to the typical class size in their own high schools.  I told them that, at our University, we are proud of the personal educational experience that our faculty and staff provide to our students.

During my brief presentation, I featured some of the new facilities on our campus.  I showed them this photograph of the renovation of Norse Commons. [PHOTO]  And I showed them this rendering of the expansion of our recreation center. [RENDERING]

Many of the high school students I met expressed an interest in pursuing a career in health care. They were excited to hear about our plans for the health innovations center.

In addition to the new and renovated facilities, which enable excellent educational experiences on campus, I told these students that a great university must provide a platform to expand the scope of a student’s education.

I told them that our study abroad opportunities are preparing students for a global society. Now more than ever, our students are seeing the world. Last year, more than 300 students traveled to more than 26 countries to advance their education. 

I showed the students this beautiful photo of two of our students in Fiji last summer.  [PHOTO]  And, I described the important research our students conducted under the direction of Professor Sharyn Jones.

I told the high school students that we offer study abroad opportunities year round in a variety of disciplines and countries.  In fact, 76 NKU students participated in study-abroad programs during the winter break.  These students just returned home this week from London, Dublin, and Italy.

In addition to study abroad experiences, I told them about our study away experiences. I shared this photograph of the students that Professor Ryan Salzman took to Washington, D.C., this past summer.  [PHOTO]  During a two-week immersive course, the students met with a secret service agent, lawyers, an inspector general, a social media strategist, an alumnus who monitors drug cartels, and many members of Congress.

I told the students that, if they wanted to work directly with their faculty members and learn from outstanding scholars who care about their students, then they should enroll at our University.  I would like to share with you just one example of the personal educational experience we provide to our students.

After enrolling at NKU, Hollie Roseberry initially struggled to succeed.  She was overwhelmed by college, and she didn’t believe she had the ability to graduate.

After changing her major twice, Hollie decided to pursue another interest of hers, construction.  Her goal is to earn a degree in construction management. But she was still not sure that she had the potential to succeed at college, so she shared her concerns with one of her professors, Dr. Daniel Kent, in the Department of Management.

After just one conversation, Hollie left Professor Kent’s office feeling inspired and optimistic.

“I then began to stay after many classes just to chat with my new-found advisor, who evidently saw potential in me that I couldn’t see myself.”

Through their one-on-one talks, Hollie became ever more confident in her abilities.  Then she began showing a natural knack for leadership – a key quality for a successful construction manager.

“I finally found my niche. I could be me and still be successful at something. I’m not sure he ever knew it, but Dr. Kent’s investment in me came at a time in my life when I needed it most. It’s his belief in me that has stopped me from focusing on what I can’t do and think about all that I have done and can do.”

Hollie’s words are the essence of our commitment to student success.  And they speak to the first promise we renewed today: to put our students first.

Hollie Roseberry and Professor Kent are here with morning.  Please stand, so that we can recognize you.

On the Road to NKU, I told the high school students that our faculty and staff are committed to the success of our students.

On the Road to NKU, I also played a short video to illustrate another important point – that our students are using their knowledge and skills to save lives.  Here’s a national news report about the Pulse Point mobile app that was developed a few years ago by our students in the Center for Applied Informatics.  [VIDEO]

The Pulse Point app has now been adopted in more than 600 municipalities across the country – from San Diego to New York.  It was developed right here, at Northern Kentucky University.  It is clear proof that we are living our promise – to make a lasting impact.

In some of the schools we visited, our University is not well known.  But we attract students from virtually every county in Kentucky.  And I introduced them to the high school students from their area.

In Somerset, I featured Hattie Clark, who graduated from Marion County High School.  [PHOTO] Hattie is a senior majoring in theatre and history.  Hattie cherishes the relationships that she has developed with her professors, and she appreciates that our University has helped to transform her from a shy young woman into an outstanding leader. 

In Louisville, I introduced the high school students to John Jose, our Student Government Association president. [PHOTO] John attributes his success to our faculty and staff who supported him, who challenged him, and who believed in him. 

In Eastern Kentucky, I talked about Helena Sizemore. [PHOTO]  Helena is from Manchester, and she graduated from Clay County High School. She is a senior majoring in Anthropology.  Helena said, “NKU offers a strong feeling of community that none of my friends at other universities can claim.”

In Lexington, I featured Dasia Bartlett, who just graduated from Henry Clay High School.  [PHOTO]  Dasia is majoring in organizational leadership and communication studies.  As a freshman, Dasia is already involved in the SGA and several other organizations.

In Western Kentucky, I featured senior Justin Wynne.  [PHOTO] Justin is from Paducah, and he is majoring in international studies and journalism.  He plans to use his degree to help preserve the environment.  Justin was one of the students who traveled to Fiji.  Justin said something that we all believe.  He said, “I feel that NKU has a future that has yet to be defined.”  According to Justin, our University “possesses the potential to be something greater than it already is.”

There is no better way to describe what makes NKU special than to do it through the words and experiences of our students, our faculty, our staff, and our graduates.

On the “Road to NKU,” I also discussed our transition to Division One. I told them that, this Fall, our women’s volleyball team and both our men’s and women’s soccer teams all advanced to the semi-finals of Atlantic Sun Conference tournaments.  And, for the second consecutive year, our men’s cross country team finished second in the ASun and JJ Webber was the individual champion once again. [PHOTO]

I told them that, in the last two years, our men’s basketball team has played Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska, West Virginia, Purdue, North Carolina, and Kentucky.  And we’ve been featured on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Day four times.

On the “Road to NKU,” I showed a short video of one of those remarkable plays – Jalen Billup’s put-back dunk against the Tarheels last December. [VIDEO]

Some of you may recall that dunk.  I was fortunate to see it in person.

But what is more exciting than the talent Jalen brings to the game is the courage that he has demonstrated in overcoming serious health challenges.

Let me explain.

On December 27, 2012, exactly one year — to the day — before his monster dunk, Jalen fainted during a routine practice drill. That black out ended Jalen’s season.

Over the next several months, Jalen underwent numerous tests. At one point, doctors sent him to the Minneapolis Heart Institute in Minnesota for more tests.

Jalen was eventually diagnosed with arrhythmia — a serious heart condition.  In order to treat this condition, surgeons implanted a defibrillator in Jalen’s chest.

After he was cleared to practice by his doctors, I met with Jalen and his mother to talk about his possible return to basketball. It was important for me to know that they understood the significance of his decision.  I also wanted to tell Jalen that he is an inspiration to me.

I am pleased to report that the prognosis for Jalen is good.  As you saw in the video, he is competing aggressively and successfully again on the court.

But Jalen has learned that life offers no guarantees.

And this health challenge has made him a better person, too.  Jalen said, “People say I was humble before, and now that this has happened I’ve become more humble. It has changed me in the right way.”

Jalen couldn’t be with us this morning, because the team left a few minutes ago to travel to Nashville to play Lipscomb tomorrow evening.  But let’s acknowledge Jalen’s contributions to our University.

Jalen is also one of the most popular students on campus.  I may be the president, but Jalen is the “Mayor” of NKU.

On the “Road to NKU,” we hosted several receptions.  At these receptions, I recognized local math teachers and librarians who are improving their communities through math education and literacy development.

For their dedication to improve math skills among elementary school students, I presented a total of 50 math intervention teachers with NKU’s Trailblazer Award for Mathematics Education.

Each math teacher is a graduate of a rigorous program developed by the Kentucky Center for Mathematics, which is located here on our campus. Each teacher has become a leader at his or her school, helping other teachers to implement innovative strategies and tools for improving math education in the primary grades. [PHOTO]

This photograph shows the six math teachers from the Paducah area who participated in the KCM program.

Just this past year, KCM trained 1,400 teachers.  And those teachers have in turn trained another 2,400 teachers.  These teachers collectively taught more than 50,000 students in our state this year alone.

This work has produced significant, measurable results.  Students tutored by KCM teachers gained, on average, more than one-grade level in math achievement.  And research shows that these gains are sustained seven years later.  The work of KCM and these teachers is simply outstanding.

At the various receptions, I also presented a total of 14 librarians from around the state with our Trailblazer Award for Leadership in Library Informatics. These librarians earned a bachelor’s degree in library informatics from our University through one of the very few online undergraduate programs of its kind in the country.

We know that our University is transforming our region.  These two programs prove that we are also preparing children all across the Commonwealth to succeed in the 21st century.

In many stops on our tour, we met with local business and community leaders.

For example, in Russell County, I met with the leaders of the local Chamber of Commerce.  During this meeting, I discussed the importance of developing a new outcomes-based funding model for higher education.  I emphasized that a strategic investment would contribute to a more vibrant economy in the Commonwealth.

In Ashland, I met with the members of the local United Way.  During this meeting, I discussed our plans for the health innovations center. [PHOTO]  I emphasized that the education, training, and research that will be conducted on our campus will improve the health of people all across Kentucky. Our conversation led to an article on the front page of the newspaper in Ashland.

In addition to visiting high schools, hosting receptions, and meeting with community leaders, we visited 10 community colleges on the tour.  Dr. Vicki Berling and her team met individually with community college students interested in transferring to NKU and former students who were thinking about returning to NKU to finish their degree.

For example, we met Logan Poynter in Somerset — the first person from that area to reach out to us at our reception.  Logan is currently finishing his associate’s degree at Somerset Community College.  He was thrilled to meet Dean Kevin Kirby, and Logan has now applied for admission to our Computer Information Technology program.

We met Melinda Lyons at Big Sandy Community College in Prestonsburg.  Melinda works in the human resources department at Big Sandy. She was so impressed with NKU that she applied the day we met her — and she is now enrolled this semester in two courses in the organizational leadership program.

In Lexington, we met Scott Ferguson, who dropped out of NKU seven years ago.  Scott has been readmitted to NKU for this semester, and he needs only seven classes to complete his bachelor’s degree in business administration.  Finishing his degree will help him earn a promotion at work. Scott also told us that it will serve as a valuable lesson to his daughter: to “finish what you start.”

In visiting community colleges, one of our goals is to create more robust partnerships, transfer agreements, and degree pathways with these schools. We started this process in our own region with Gateway and Cincinnati State. These programs make earning a bachelor’s degree easier, quicker, and more affordable.

The pathways programs with Gateway and Cincinnati State provide a clear map of how a student can transfer to NKU and earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.  Presently, we have 40 pathways with Gateway and 23 pathways either approved or in development with Cincinnati State.   Expanding these existing pathways and adding new partners is a priority for our University.

Here’s why.  Allow me to share a story about one of our community college transfer students.

Bryan Dell began his college education at Cincinnati State in Fall 2010.

Most freshmen arrive with first-week butterflies.  Bryan came to college with the fear of certain failure.

“After my second day of class, I was going to quit school,” Bryan said. “I had very little faith that I could complete my courses, let alone earn a degree.”

In part, Bryan’s anxiety was because he had not been in a classroom since 1979, the year he graduated from Mount Healthy High School.

But there was another reason for Bryan’s self-doubt.

For most of his adult life, Bryan had used and abused drugs. Marijuana at first, then cocaine and, finally, crack cocaine.

As years turned into decades, Bryan fell deeper into drug abuse. Bryan hit the bottom in 2007, when his father died. “My mother looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I’ll probably die, too, before I see you get clean.”

Those words settled in his heart.  And one year later, Bryan awakened with a sense of purpose:  a determination to quit drugs and then to get a college education. “It was time to accept responsibility. I decided that failure was no longer an option for me.”

Despite his initial anxiety, Bryan excelled academically and socially while he was a student at Cincinnati State.  He was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society. And Bryan was elected president of the Black Male Initiative, a campus organization dedicated to excellence in education, leadership, and community service.

While at Cincinnati State, he earned a nearly perfect GPA.  He once was addicted to drugs.  In college, Bryan became, in his words, “addicted to A’s.”

In 2013, Bryan transferred to our University.

And just as he had at Cincinnati State, Bryan excelled at NKU.  Bryan majored in social work, and he made the Dean’s List every semester.

A few weeks ago, at commencement, I was privileged to shake Bryan’s hand when he was awarded a bachelor’s degree, graduating with a 3.82 GPA.

Bryan is currently studying to become a licensed social worker. He continues to work at Talbert House, a network of social service agencies. And to further his career, Bryan begins graduate school in social work here at NKU in June.

At our University, Bryan found his calling – to help others overcome their addictions.  “All of us know someone who is struggling with addiction. I want to be their beacon of hope.”

Bryan’s mother, Annette, not only lived long enough to see her son become drug free, Ms. Richardson was also able to see her son walk across the stage at our commencement last month.

And, Ms. Richardson is here again this morning with Bryan, along with Bryan’s aunt, Anntoinnette Sutton; Bryan’s sister, Anita Dell-Tony; and Bryan’s fiancé, Robin Mitchell Hill.

Please stand, so that we may recognize you.

Thank you, Bryan, for sharing your wonderful story with us this morning.  Your journey demonstrates the important role our University plays in ensuring the success of all students in our community.

As we traveled to the four corners of the state, we visited communities where our University is not very well known.

But virtually everywhere we went, there were people with a connection to NKU.

I met parents of our current students and of our recent graduates.  Everyone I met expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude for our University. 

At Bourbon County High School, I met Krystal McCarty and Patty Caswell. [PHOTO]  Krystal’s daughter, Bethann, is a current student, and Patty’s son, Adam, graduated from NKU in 2009.  Adam is now the Vice President of Public Affairs at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

When I visited Lexington, I met Paula and Greg Wehrly and Robyn and David Johnson. [PHOTO] Paula and Greg’s daughter, Michelle, is the president of NKU’s PanHellenic Council.  Robyn and David’s son, Colton, is a senior at NKU.  Colton wants to work at NKU in Student Affairs, so he can serve as a mentor to students – so he can provide the kind of support that he received as a student here.

When I visited Louisville, I met Lisa Raisor. [PHOTO]  Lisa’s son, David Trump, is a senior majoring in theatre.  He has performed in seven major productions at NKU, and he has already received several scholarship offers to attend graduate school.

At Assumption High School, I met Kathy Fleischer and Tricia Heady.  [PHOTO] Kathy’s daughter, Julia, is an NKU graduate.  Tricia’s son, Quint, is a senior and a member of our baseball team.

When I visited Paul Blazer High School in Ashland, I met Jane Dixon, whose son Jacob is a senior here at NKU.  [PHOTO] Jane was proudly wearing her black and gold NKU t-shirt for our visit. 

At Owensboro High School I met Kathy Hughes. [PHOTO]   Kathy teaches at the high school, and her daughter, Hannah, is a biology major here. 

As we traveled from Pikeville to Paducah, we were also greeted and warmly welcomed by many loyal and successful NKU graduates.

At our reception in Pikeville, I met a large group of Chase law graduates, including “Micky” McGuire, Chris Harris, Larry Thompson, Dan Stratton, Dave Stratton, and Stephen Hogg.

In Paducah, I visited with Glenn Denton, another successful Chase alum.  [PHOTO]  Glenn is a member of the Council on Postsecondary Education.  [PHOTO]

In Ashland, I met James Biggs, who graduated from NKU in 1993.  [PHOTO] He is the boy’s basketball coach and an English teacher at Paul Blazer High School. 

In Owensboro, I met Nick Brake.  [PHOTO] Both Nick and his wife are NKU graduates.  Nick is the superintendent of the Owensboro Independent School District. [PHOTO]

Since visiting Owensboro High School during the tour, I have learned that more than 50 seniors there have applied to NKU for next Fall.  It’s clear that Nick and his wife are great representatives of our University.

I also had the privilege of visiting the classrooms of two NKU graduates who are enthusiastic and innovative educators. I’d like to tell you about them.

Elizabeth Coleman Pelfrey earned her biology degree from NKU in 2009.  While at NKU, Elizabeth was a leader in the Student Government Association and in several other student organizations.  After graduating, she explored a few career paths before discovering that her calling was teaching. Elizabeth returned to school, earned a master’s degree in teaching, and joined the faculty at Dunbar High School in Lexington.

Elizabeth invited me to speak to her science class and another teacher’s social studies class.  Elizabeth’s classroom is full of reminders of her outstanding education from NKU. She proudly displays an NKU pennant and an NKU magnet. 

I asked Elizabeth who was the most influential professor she had at NKU.  Without hesitation, she responded: Dr. Richard Durtsche, who teaches classes related to reptiles and amphibians. Professor Dursche’s influence on Elizabeth was evident — her classroom is filled with aquariums featuring native Kentucky species.

During my visit to Scott County, I met Michael Tackett, a teacher at the Elkhorn Crossing School and a 2004 Chase graduate.  Elkhorn Crossing is the largest career and technical high school in the state – and, frankly, one of the most innovative high schools I have ever visited.  The school is divided into five academic “villages”: engineering, biomedical sciences, health science, media arts, and law and justice.  These villages are very similar to college majors.

Michael teaches in the law and justice village.  [PHOTO] He invited me to talk about the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing case.  His classroom includes a mock trial courtroom.  Michael uses his legal background to get students excited about a variety of fields in law and law enforcement. 

At our University, we appreciate the transformative power of education, and we value the service that we provide to our students and our community.  It was gratifying – in fact, it was inspiring – to see that so many of our graduates are extending this honorable legacy of education and service.

It took a lot of time and effort to plan and execute the “Road to NKU.”

By the end of the tour, we had spoken to approximately 3,000 high school students at 25 high schools.

And we had traveled 2,741 miles — about the same distance it takes to drive from New York City to Los Angeles.

Now, on the tour, I rode with Joe Wind.  Even though we had three GPS devices, we often weren’t able to make it directly from Point A to Point B.  So, I know our mileage total was much higher than that.

But all of the time and effort are well worth it.  I understand that, this year, there has been a significant increase in the number of applicants from the 25 high schools we visited.  Last year at this time, we had received 400 applications from students at the 25 high schools we visited.  As of this Monday – the same point in time – more than 600 students from those high schools have applied to NKU – an increase of 55%!  And, bear in mind, many of the students we met on the tour were only juniors or sophomores, so we don’t yet know if our visits will produce applications from those students over the next few years.

I also recently learned that two of those high schools – Southwestern High School in Somerset and Henderson County High School – have already organized bus trips to NKU this Spring, so that they can bring large numbers of students to visit our campus.

I am certain that many more people all across the Commonwealth now know that something special is happening at our University.

There were a lot of people who participated in this effort.

Nearly 100 staff and faculty contributed to some aspect of the tour.  Thank you for your contributions.

In particular, I must recognize Joe Wind, Vicki Berling, Melissa Gorbandt, and Katie Herschede.  They organized all of our trips and ensured our success.

I want to take a moment to recognize Melissa’s hard work.  After my presentation to the high school students, I invited Melissa to join me to answer their questions.  She probably answered more than 1,000 questions, but she was only stumped once.

My favorite moment, though, came when we were visiting Russell High School, where Melissa went to school.  We were in the library and about 50 students were present.  At each of the high schools, when a student asked a question, we gave that student an NKU t-shirt.

When we were at Russell, I noticed that one young woman had her hand up for a long time.  Eventually, I intervened – I asked Melissa to call on this student.  There were two reasons.

First, as I said, this student had her hand raised for a long time.

Second, and more importantly, the student was wearing a t-shirt from another university.  It was, of all things, a Harvard t-shirt.  As a Yale graduate, I had to take action to make sure that she had an appropriate t-shirt to wear.  [PHOTO]

This photograph shows that moment – the moment when I asked Melissa to call on that student and when I explained to her why I had to intervene.

To Melissa, and to all of the women and men who made the RoadToNKU possible, thank you all very much.

I would like to share another special, memorable moment – one from our trip to Lee County.  This memory also involves a young student who waited very patiently to have her question answered.

When we visited Lee County, the superintendent, Dr. Jim Evans, arranged for us to meet with a group of high achieving high school students and middle school students.  I ended my presentation that day the same way I ended each one – with this photograph.  [PHOTO] I used it to make two points.

First, this photograph provides a good sense of the size and layout of our campus.

Second, it shows how close we are to Cincinnati.  I pointed out the city skyline.  I told the students that our location in a major metropolitan area provided many experiential learning opportunities, as well as the opportunity to enjoy professional sports and world class art and entertainment.  And I said that, with an NKU ID, our students can ride the bus for free to go to downtown Cincinnati.

During the visit to Lee County, there were two young students sitting in the last row.  Here’s a photograph of the entire group outside the school after our event. [PHOTO]

The two young girls are Jenna Dunaway and Kennedy Lambert.

After my presentation, Jenna raised her hand, and Melissa called on her pretty quickly.

But Kennedy had her hand up for a long time.  So, eventually, I called on her.  And here’s what she asked:  “So, if we go to your college, does that mean we can go to Cincinnati?”

And I said, “Yes, if you come to NKU, you can go to Cincinnati.”

Then Kennedy leaned over to Jenna and said, “If we go there, we can go to Cincinnati!”

I was so impressed with their enthusiasm that I decided that they shouldn’t have to wait five or six years to come to tour campus, to see our community, and to visit Cincinnati.  So, with the help of some of our friends, I am pleased to tell you that Jenna and Kennedy and their mothers, Janet and Melissa, are here with us today.

Please stand, so that we may welcome you.

Also with them is Dr. Jim Evans, the superintendent of Lee County Schools.

Jenna and Kennedy, please come up here with me for just a moment.

Now, you know that, after this program is over, you and your mothers are going on a tour of our campus.  And you’re going to stop into our campus bookstore.  Our friends at Barnes and Noble have a gift for each of you.

After lunch, you’re going to visit the Newport Aquarium.  Alison Ruebusch, an NKU graduate, has arranged a great tour for you.

Then, tonight, we have a big surprise for you.  Another NKU graduate, Todd Duesing, has provided us with tickets for you to go to the Aronoff Center to see “Cinderella.”  You’re going to Cincinnati!

Jenna and Kennedy, have a great time.  Thank you for joining us today.

Something special – something very special is always happening at Northern Kentucky University.

The “Road to NKU” was a great way for us to promote our University – to inform people all across the state about our outstanding programs and about our excellent faculty, staff, and students.

But it was also a great way for me to learn more about Kentucky – about the people who live in small towns and larger cities from Pikeville to Paducah.  It was helpful to hear about their challenges, and it was inspiring to hear about their dreams.

And I learned a very important lesson about the fundamental benefit – the lasting impact – of our tour.  I learned that lesson during our visit to Henderson County.

Henderson County is a rural area in western Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana.  After our presentation to a large group of students at Henderson County High School, I had a chance to speak with the principal, Chad Thompson.

Mr. Thompson told me that many of the students at his high school don’t even think about applying to college, because they don’t believe they can afford it.  But Mr. Thompson said that our visit may have expanded their horizons – our visit may have encouraged his students to believe that attending college was a realistic goal.

Here’s what he told me:  “That a university president came to our school spoke volumes to our students.  I could see the gleam in their eyes; you could see them perk up.  When they see a president come and talk about all of the great things going on at his university, you see hope – you see hope start to well up in these kids.  You saw their eyes light up.”

When we embarked on the Road to NKU, I thought we were promoting our University.  But I learned that we were planting seeds of hope.

When we embarked on the Road to NKU, I thought we were selling our programs.  But I learned that we were igniting sparks of curiosity and ambition – sparks that can be ignited into flames that will light the way to a brighter future – a brighter future for our community, our Commonwealth, our country, and our world.

And as we embark on another semester filled with great promise, let us all remember this invaluable lesson – that we are transforming people’s lives and helping to create a better world.

And let us all live the promise that will enable our students to fulfill their potential and to create this better world.

Thank you for your service and your support.

And, on Monday, let’s go to work.

Now, before we conclude, we have one final special performance.  Jason Vest is going to return to the stage to perform Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.  Jason will be accompanied by Jamey Strawn.  Jason will be performing the lead role of Jean Valjean in our production of Les Miserables next month. 

Please join me in welcoming Jason back to the stage.

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