First Independence Bank Chairman & CEO Kenneth Kelly returned to his native Alabama to his alma mater, Auburn University in one of the most cherished and pivotal roles, commencement speaker.
Kelly, an Auburn University distinguished alumnus, delivered a rousing message to help kick-off the spring commencement weekend at the Jordan-Hare Stadium this past Friday, April 30. His message: Flight from the Nest.
“Auburn has been a nest for each of you,” said Kelly, who graduated from Auburn in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “As you fly from this nest today, remember that this nest is a place to come back to, to give back to and to honor through your legacy. The time has come for each of you to take flight from the nest. War Eagle, War Eagle, War Eagle!”
The university awarded its doctoral and master’s degrees following Kelly’s rousing speech this past Friday, with spring commencement ceremonies continuing this past Saturday, May 1 with undergraduates welcomed to the stage in Pat Dye Field’s south endzone.
“You are here, in one of the nation’s greatest venues, about to become another layer of our family that is everlasting,” said Kelly, chairman and CEO of Detroit-headquartered First Independence Bank, the seventh-largest African American-controlled bank in the country. “Today, your legacy begins as a layer in the Auburn alumni, and it is an honor to welcome you into this great family reflecting on the creed that focuses on work, hard work, in education, in honesty, in a sound mind, in obedience of law, in the human touch and in our country. I want you to know that Auburn University believes in you.”
Combined, more than 4,600 graduates are scheduled to participate in the commencement celebrations, which concludes Monday, May 3. Of those, 106 are doctoral degrees, 744 are master’s degrees, six were specialist degrees and 3,485 bachelor’s degrees.
Due to COVID-19, safety protocols were in place for all ceremonies, including the requirement of face coverings and social distancing, with individual colleges and schools recognizing graduates at set ceremony times in the stadium.
Kelly is committed to various philanthropic endeavors to empower the next generation of Auburn engineers. He established an endowment for minority engineering students from his hometown of Eufaula, Alabama. Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering named the Engineering Academic Excellence Program Office Suite Reception Area in the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center in his honor. Kelly also served as vice chair and treasurer of the Auburn University Engineering Alumni Council before becoming chair last year, making him the first African American to chair the council in its 55-year history.
“Kenneth Kelly personifies the value of an Auburn degree and the potential it holds,” Auburn President Jay Gogue said. “He is a true servant leader, and his efforts have made an impact on his profession as well as on our students, who are empowered by the expertise and resources he shares.”
In 2018, Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Auburn Engineer Award, an honor granted to less than 140 individuals over the last 50 years across more than 35,000 engineering graduates. That same year, he was presented the Spirit of Detroit Award by the Detroit City Council. More recently, Kelly was inducted into the prestigious state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2020. Kelly has been included in the Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 and has been recognized for his leadership in Georgia by the Henry County Chamber, Council for Quality Growth and 100 Black Men of Atlanta.
Kelly is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 100 Black Men, the National Black MBA Association, and a board of director of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
The Auburn University commencement speech is available on Auburn University Spring 2021 Commencement – Graduate School – YouTube and commencement website.