Shaka Smart ’99, the University of Texas head basketball coach who rose to fame by leading the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams to an unexpected Final Four appearance in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, will deliver the Commencement address at Kenyon’s 189th Commencement ceremony May 20, 2017.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to participate in the most important day of the year at a place that was incredibly important in helping me become who I am,” Smart said. “It also allows me the chance to return to be around some of the people who played an instrumental role in shaping my life.”
Smart was announced as the speaker by Sam Clougher ’17, the senior class president, at Kenyon’s semi-formal Senior Soiree event Saturday, Nov. 5. He was recommended to President Sean Decatur by a selection committee chaired by Professor of Mathematics Carol Schumacher and composed of Clougher as well as other students, faculty and staff.
“Shaka Smart is not only a brilliant coach, but a true advocate for the value of the liberal arts and the importance of the classroom experience for student athletes,” Decatur said.
At Kenyon, Smart majored in history, graduating magna cum laude. His faculty advisor, Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff, called Smart to extend Decatur’s invitation to deliver the Commencement address.
“I’ve always thought really highly of him as a person, as an intellectual and as a basketball person,” said Rutkoff, who keeps in touch with Smart and tries to attend several of his games each season. Although he has “no idea what he’ll say,” Rutkoff praised Smart as “a dynamic and charismatic speaker.”
Following a distinguished career on the Lords basketball team, Smart held assistant coach positions at several institutions before becoming VCU’s head coach in 2009. In 2011, Smart led the Rams as they upset several high-seeded teams during March Madness, beating top-seeded University of Kansas to win a spot in the Final Four before finally being defeated 70-62 by the Butler University Bulldogs. In 2015, Smart moved to Austin to coach the Texas Longhorns.
As the captain of the Lords soccer team, Clougher, who is from Dublin, Ireland, understands the impact a great coach can have on a team. “I also have high expectations for a speech from such an impressive coach, which only adds to the excitement,” he said.
Rutkoff is looking forward to Smart’s return to campus. “I’m delighted that he’s coming back. It’s always great to see him in person, so this is just another opportunity for a few of us who have remained close to him to be able to do that,” he said. “I think it’s really wonderful to reintroduce the College to him, and vice versa.”