Kent Spiers: Q&A with the Commencement Speaker

On the night of Commencement, a lone individual will stand in front of 2,323 of his fellow graduates and give a speech. This speech has been prepared well in advance, and the young man — a sociology major, Leadership Honors award-winner and Canadian citizen — will commemorate the class of 2012 on a night of celebration as they accept their diplomas and walk across a stage to the next chapter of their lives.

Kent Spiers has spent the last four years at UAA, and in that time he has plumbed the school to its fullest potential. In addition to serving as the president of the International Student Association, the administrative assistant for the UAA Office of Sustainability and a research assistant for the Honors College, Spiers has also worked with the National Coalition Building Institute and been awarded both the Seawolf Leader award and the Seawolf Community award for his commitment to UAA. Now he and the entire 2012 class stand at the pinnacle of their accomplishments, ready to move onward. Spiers graciously took some time to sit down with The Northern Light and discuss the state of things in the final countdown to the big night.

TNL: The culmination of your UAA experience has finally arrived; how do you feel?

Kent Spiers: Excited and terrified at the same time. Excited because it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience. I’ve loved every minute of it. Terrified in the sense that I’m not ready to go — I don’t want to go yet. I’ve enjoyed the bubble I’ve been in. But we’ll see where it goes from here!

What drew you to UAA in the first place?

I came up here on a vacation over the summer four years ago and fell in love with Alaska, and honestly my partner as well. I went to the University Center and started looking at some of the available programs and majors. And I thought, “Oh, this looks like a really awesome college.” And my interest in environmental studies, you know, with glaciers and polar bears and all that stuff, made this the place to be.

What would you say is the most valuable lesson or experience you’ve taken away from this college during your time here?

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Before I came to college I thought I knew everything. I thought the problems of the world could be easily solved; it was just a lack of willingness or measure. But I’ve learned that really what I know and what people can know is very small, and the world is a rather complex place. I guess it’s showed me what I don’t know.

What made you want to be the Commencement speaker?

I saw it as a way of giving back — not only is my speech reflective on the graduates of 2012, but I hope that the people from the audience or people from home, whoever’s watching it, are our future students. Because I want people to know that the possibilities are there for just about anybody — that you can do it, and that UAA is a great place for really anybody. So I see being the speaker as a way of reflection and voice for people.

So I guess the question here then is, how are you with big crowds?

I guess you’ll see! (laughs) I’m actually working with a terrific coach, Shawnalee Whitney, who’s fantastic. I do feel prepared. The final version of the speech is done. In my short history of being on this planet, I was in theater for a little while, so I’ve sung in front of big crowds before by myself — although there won’t be any singing in this Commencement. Going to disappoint a lot of people, I know. But I feel like it’s all going to be okay.

There have been a lot of changes and additions to this school over the past few years — the ConocoPhilips Science Building, the Nursing Facility, the new incoming sports arena. During your time here, what do you think has been the most important change to this school? It doesn’t have to be simply physical.

Wow. That’s a good question. I mean I think that the physical growth to this campus has been fantastic; it’s terrific that we are growing as an institution. But I think what has really impressed me with UAA is the embracing and the encouragement of diversity on this campus. That we have an institution that supports everybody, supports the freedom of speech. This campus is inclusive of everybody, and I’ve really seen that come into play.

What’s one thing you think all students should take away from their time here at UAA?

That you can do it. That it might seem difficult at times, and you might be faced with some difficult choices, but you can do it. And I really think students should get involved. People might go, “Well I’ve looked at all the student clubs and there isn’t one that I’m really interested in.” Terrific, you can create your own. The staff at Student Life & Leadership is a wonderful group of people, and I really owe a lot of gratitude to them for being where I am now. Any student who wants to do what they want, we’ve got a culture here that embraces that.

Where do you draw most of your own inspiration?

My family — that being my parents and brother, extended relatives, my partner and his parents here, sisters … my entire family is a really loving and encouraging group of people. I’m a first-generation student in my family. No one has really gone beyond, so that’s been a motivator for me too.

What sort of future do you envision for yourself after this next big step?

Well, I’m very happy that I’ve been hired as a professional researcher at the Institute of Social and Economic Research. I love social science research. But it’s hard to predict where I’ll be — I mean, four years ago I would have laughed at you for saying I’d end up living in Alaska in a few months. So it’s difficult to say, but public policy and politics are what I’m interested in and keeping my eye on for my long-term future. I always joke with people, “You know, one day I’ll end up being the prime minister of Canada.” Who knows!

Do you have any final words you’d like to say before Commencement?

I’d like to say thank you. I’d like to say thank you to everybody I’ve gotten to know over the last four years — some people I’ve worked with in groups, in class, some people I’ve had the fortune for knowing for the full four years. I live by the NCLB motto that every person counts. And certainly, in my life and my time here at UAA, every person has made a difference, big and small. So my final word is thank you.