University of Arkansas - Fort Smith commencement speaker John Taylor began his remarks in a way no UAFS commencement speaker has before: by taking a selfie.

Taylor took the photo with Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, before beginning his speech to graduates at the 10 a.m. ceremony Saturday, May 9 in the Stubblefield Center on UAFS campus. Taylor, who is chair of the UAFS Foundation, then asked graduates and audience members to take a photo of themselves as well.

Taylor, a senior vice president at the financial services firm Stern Agee, outlined the importance of two words during his speech, “define” and “disrupt.” He used the selfie to demonstrate the power of introspection and self-definition to graduates.

“There are two things we need to understand fundamentally about defining ourselves. Here’s the most important one -- how you define yourself will determine much of the direction of your life,” Taylor said. “It will have a lot to do with your success or the perception of your success.”

“The second thing is this: if you do not intentionally define yourself, it will be defined for you,” he continued. “Your circumstances will define you. The people you know will define you. The selfie you just took of yourself -- what’s the real selfie you’ve been carrying around in your head all these years?”

Taylor took out his cell phone and showed the crowd a photo from his childhood, shortly after being diagnosed with polio.

“For most of my life, I carried around this selfie,” he said. “That I was a crippled kid. And to make it worse, I came from a destitute and dysfunctional family. So for much of my life, my selfie -- my definition of myself -- was I was a crippled poor kid whose dad was an alcoholic.”

He then described the importance of being disruptive, whether it be a company disrupting an industry or a person disrupting people’s lives in a positive way. He cited Dr. Carolyn McKelvey Moore, who was the first full-time employee of the UAFS Foundation and for whom the university’s nursing program is named, as a disruptor in his life.

“Carolyn’s life is defined as one of service to others, and Carolyn has disrupted many lives, including my own,” Taylor said. “She disrupted the norm…she recruited and admitted some of the very first African American students that became nurses. And she was brave enough to believe that men could be nurses, too.”

“When Carolyn came, the Foundation had been dormant for a number of years. She resurrected it. Within a few years, Westark Community College had the highest endowment per student of any two-year college in the nation.”

Kerbi Key of Fort Smith, a graduate of the 10 a.m. ceremony, was also mentioned by Taylor as a disruptor. Key, who earned a scholarship through the UAFS Foundation, has made several trips to India to work with orphans, raising money for the trips by selling knitted scarves.

“She decided to define her life by an act of service,” Taylor said. “At the age of 22, she’s already impacting lives.”

Later, at the 2 p.m. ceremony, Taylor discussed Angie Stout of Cedarville, a non-traditional graduate who came back to school after, as she put it, “Life took over.” She plans to earn a master’s degree with the hopes of someday helping construct schools in impoverished areas across the world.

“That’s a disruptor. Each of you have an opportunity to do the same thing,” Taylor said. “You have an opportunity to refuse to allow your life be defined by your background and circumstances. You have a chance to press the reboot button and to redefine your life as a disruptor.”

Taylor ended his speech by stressing the importance of philanthropy and how to lead a fulfilling life, reiterating the phrase, “In life…you only get to keep what you give away.”

“How can you change the world?” Taylor asked. “Define, and disrupt. I call you to a life that is marked by those two simple words.”

Beran addressed the crowd prior to Taylor, congratulating graduates and reminding them their educational journey is just beginning.

“Perhaps some of you thought now that you’ve graduated that the learning process will slow down, will become more leisurely, or that you will have less at stake,” Beran said. “But the reality is that if you want success -- no matter how you define that term for yourself -- you need to recognize the degree you are receiving marks the beginning of life-alerting tests and lifelong learning that will never end.”

Beran underscored the importance of a college degree and the newfound respect it will earn graduates, and urged them to embrace leadership roles as they grow in their careers.

“I look forward to watching all your lives’ trajectories, and I promise to all of you who are graduating today, that we will work very hard at UAFS to make your degree worth more [in the future] than it even is right now,” he added.

The two commencement ceremonies, held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., recognized more than 800 candidates for graduation from the spring semester and summer terms.

The morning ceremony awarded graduates from the College of Health Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Graduates of the afternoon ceremony included the College of Applied Science and Technology, College of Business, and the College of Languages and Communication.

The ceremonies also included the oath of office for three UAFS students commissioned as second lieutenants in the Active Army or the Arkansas Army National Guard -- Leonardo Padilla and Jacob Potts of Fort Smith, and Churxa Yang of Booneville. They participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at UAFS. Capt. Jason Blackston administered the oath.  


“How can you change the world? Define, and disrupt. I call you to a life that is marked by those two simple words.”


In addition to Beran, presenting the candidates for graduation from both ceremonies were Dr. Georgia Hale, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs; Wayne Womack, registrar; Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the College of Health Sciences; Dr. Robert Willoughby, interim dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Dr. James Belcher, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Dr. Leroy Cox, interim dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology; Dr. Margaret Tanner, interim dean of the College of Business; and Dr. Joe Hardin, dean of the College of Languages and Communication.

Dr. Norm Dennis, interim associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, presented candidates for graduation for the engineering programs which are a cooperative effort between UAFS and the U of A.

Ceremony participants also included the UAFS Symphonic Band, directed by Dr. Alex Zacharella; Dr. Rager Moore, director of choral activities who performed “The Star Spangled Banner”; Dr. Patsy Cornelius, chief marshal and bearer of the mace; the UAFS Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, presenting the colors; and Rick Goins, alumni director at UAFS, who gave a welcome from the Alumni Association.

Pre-ceremony music and a post-recessional bell peal were performed on the Donald W. Reynolds Bell Tower Carillon by Dr. Stephen Husarik, head carillonneur.


Article by John Post, Director of Public Information
Photo Credits: 
Photos by Rachel Putman, Photographer, Marketing and Communications Office
Date Posted: 
Saturday, May 9, 2015
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