Geoffrey S. Mearns
Fall 2022 Convocation Remarks
Friday, August 19, 2022, 9 a.m.
Emens Auditorium

'We have conferred...more than 15,600 degrees and credentials'

I want to share one final statistic that demonstrates the extraordinary impact of your hard work. Since the advent of the pandemic in March 2020 through our July 2022 commencement exercises, we have conferred—our students have earned—more than 15,600 degrees and credentials. 15,600!

This number is a testament to the persistence and tenacity of our students.

And this number is a testament to the dedication of our faculty and staff.

I know that the past two years have been difficult ones—professionally and personally. But this statistic demonstrates that your sustained service is truly worthwhile. Indeed, it’s the ultimate way in which we measure our success. And we have excelled. Thank you very much.

'Deb wanted to create a new scholarship fund that would support the passions of both her husband and their son.'

There was one student, though, who should have been among the graduates, but who wasn’t with us that day. His name is Zak Malitz.

Last August, Zak passed away. He was just 32 years old, a nontraditional student who’d found his purpose studying economics in our Miller College of Business.

Zak’s death devastated his mother, Deb. Her grief was compounded when family and friends asked if they could direct gifts in Zak’s honor to the scholarship established in his father’s name, but Deb had no answer to their question.

Zak’s father, Roger Malitz, was a cellist who taught in our School of Music before his own death 20 years ago, when Zak was just a young boy.

In the months that followed Zak’s death, Deb spoke several times with Brian Meekin, one of the fundraisers in our Foundation. Deb wanted to create a new scholarship fund that would support the passions of both her husband and their son.

It was during one of their calls that Deb said something that Brian couldn’t forget. Deb told Brian that Zak loved his time at our University. That, more than anything, she wished he could have completed his degree before he died.

Brian got off the phone, and he immediately started calling colleagues who could help fulfill Deb’s dream. The next time Brian spoke to Deb, he was able to confirm that Zak had the credits he needed to graduate—and that we could award Zak a posthumous degree.

Friends, Deb Malitz is here with us today. And it is my honor to invite her to the stage to accept this diploma on Zak’s behalf.

Deb, thank you for joining us. I know this moment is both very meaningful and very difficult for you.

'I was moved by the collegiality and appreciation that filled the room that early morning'

Ball State is distinctive because we are grateful and we are optimistic. Let me explain.

In January, I embarked on another round of conversations with faculty and staff all across campus. The provost joined me when I met with faculty and staff in Academic Affairs. I flew solo—get it, I flew solo—when I met with our colleagues in the other divisions.

In total, I participated in 21 of these conversations during the Spring semester, and approximately 1,400 of you attended one of these conversations, either in person or by Zoom.

I appreciate the feedback that I received in all of these conversations. But one of them was particularly memorable.

On April 13, I met at 6 a.m. in Worthen Arena with the women and men who work the third shift—from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I didn’t talk about our enrollment initiatives or our incentive-based budget model. Nobody wants to talk about those things at 6 a.m. on a cold, dark morning.

Instead, I told our colleagues how much all of us appreciate that, while we sleep, they work all night to clean our classrooms and our offices. Then, we drank coffee and juice, and we ate doughnuts from our North Dining Hall. I was moved by the collegiality and appreciation that filled the room that early morning.

A few days later, I received a “thank you” card personally signed by all of these hard-working women and men—the largest “thank you” card that I have ever seen.

A remarkable display of gratitude, one of our enduring values. Now you know why I always say, “I have the good fortune to serve as the president of Ball State University.”

'Today, I will recognize Annie Burns-Hicks by bestowing upon her one of our University’s highest honors—the President’s Medal of Distinction.'

Annie Burns-Hicks graduated from Ball State Teachers College in 1958. After she graduated, Annie returned to her hometown of Hammond, Indiana, where she applied for her first teaching job. Her application was promptly denied. Annie was told that Hammond “wasn’t ready for a colored teacher.”

Annie had moved to Hammond with her parents and her siblings in 1944. Her father, Albert, had moved the family from Mississippi after witnessing two young Black men being lynched.

Albert said to his daughter: “I’ve brought you north for a better life, and the only thing I ask from you is for you to try and make this world a better place.”

Annie never forgot her father’s words. After her teaching application was rejected, she decided to sue the school district in federal court. A few months later, she won the legal battle to become Hammond’s first Black teacher.

In Fall 1960, Annie’s first job was at Maywood Elementary, where she herself had been a student.

Annie’s courageous actions energized the fight for civil rights in her community. Her hiring paved the way for Hammond’s first Black police officer, the first Black firefighter, and the first Black school trustee.

This past January, the city’s school board voted to honor Annie’s legacy by renaming Maywood—the same school she attended and taught at for 40 years—they renamed it the Annie Burns-Hicks Elementary School.

Le Terre Smith, the school’s principal, said that Annie “paved the way for African American educators and for women.” Annie’s story, the principal said, “is a great example for our students and for our children.”

Indeed, Annie’s story is a great example for all of us.

So, today, I will recognize Annie Burns-Hicks by bestowing upon her one of our University’s highest honors—the President’s Medal of Distinction.

This medal is awarded to women and men who have made significant contributions to the advancement of our institution, our community, our state, and our Nation.

And as the president of our University, I believe that Annie is a most deserving recipient.