LEXINGTON, Ky.—Transylvania University’s 222 graduates welcomed the cool weather Saturday morning as they sat in their black caps and gowns soaking up the sunshine on the lawn of historic Old Morrison during the school’s commencement ceremony.
Transylvania president R. Owen Williams conferred the bachelor of arts degree on the graduates, actor Steve Zahn delivered the keynote address, class of 2013 member Hannah Johnson was the student speaker and poet Nikky Finney received an honorary degree.
Zahn, a Lexington resident who has appeared in movies including “Reality Bites,” “That Thing You Do!,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Riding in Cars with Boys,” advised the graduates to take the back roads, where it’s hard to pass and you have to slow down and go through a lot of small towns.
“That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take the highways, too,” he said. “It’s your turn to merge onto the interstate and go for it. But remember, the faster you go, the harder it will be to pull off onto the back road, and trust me, the back roads are better. They’re the ones you remember.
“The long and the short of it is this: Don’t be in such a hurry to get where you think you’re supposed to be, because you’ll run the risk of missing the real opportunity. Live with integrity and passion. Treat yourself and others well. Humility mixed with focused tenacity will go a long way. Buy a radar detector—and go see my movies.”
Zahn attended Harvard University’s Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at American Repertory Theatre. In addition to movies, he appeared in the television mini-series “Comanche Moon” and in “South Beach,” “Friends,” “From the Earth to the Moon” mini-series and “Monk.” He currently plays the character of Davis McAlary in HBO’s “Treme.”
Johnson, a Lexington native and political science major with minors in communication and Spanish, drew attention to “first world problems”—the trivial inconveniences that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. She said that she and her classmates have the responsibility to direct their energy away from worrying about first world problems and toward solving real world problems.
“In our tenure at Transylvania, we have learned to identify the problems that need solving. Now, class of 2013, let it be our legacy to contribute to their solution. We have developed the skills and the drive to not only seek a solution, but to be the solution.”
Johnson was active at Transylvania, serving as a senator in the Student Government Association, a student orientation leader and a member of the dance team. She founded Alternative Winter Break and served as site leader in the Dominican Republic. She spent the summer of 2012 as an intern for “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Johnson will leave for Hawaii next week for a two-year appointment with Teach for America.
Finney is a nationally recognized poet whose work speaks of family and politics, violence and compassion and the experiences of black America and of diverse sexualities. Her latest book, “Head Off & Split,” won the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry, and two other books were award winners: “The World is Round” received the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry and “Rice” won the PEN American Open Books Award. A professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky, she will begin her new role as the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Literature at the University of South Carolina in August.
A few facts about 2013 Transylvania graduates: