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Iowa State graduates listen to former Iowa State President Steven Leath address the crowd during the 2017 graduation commencement ceremony.

Families and friends of more than 2,000 Iowa State undergraduate candidates gathered Saturday for the fall 2018 commencement at Hilton Coliseum.

“President Wendy, I did not write a speech today. Ladies and gentlemen, I did not write a speech today,” said Theaster Gates Jr., commencement speaker. “But I am so happy to be back at this place that made me a whole person.”

While Gates may not have prepared a speech, he had no trouble delivering what the class of 2018 needed to hear.

The ceremony began with a heartfelt montage of student interviews.

“The people,” said Joi Latson when asked what she will miss most after graduation. “I feel as if I’ve built a community here … having so many people around me who support me.”

Latson now holds degrees in global resources systems and world language and cultures.

After students proceeded into Hilton, Faculty Senate President Peter Martin presented the honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to Gates.

“Thanks for the free one, guys,” Gates said before delivering the commencement speech.

As Gates took the podium he quickly scribbled the words, 'courage, history, art, empowerment and multivalence practices.'

“Courage is a funny thing," Gates said. "[It] required a little bit to tell my mom that maybe I should do something that I believed in.” 

Gates is the founder and executive director of Rebuild Foundation, a program that redeems spaces that have been left behind by providing free arts programming and development of affordable housing, studio and live-work space.  

“In my life, if there’s been any success, it was a deep understanding that I needed to be many different kinds of people at one time,” Gates said. “I’d have to be more generous than I’d want to be. More humble than I ever could be. More rigorous than I was ever trained to be.”

Gates left the class of 2018 encouraging the reflection of one’s motives, character and professional training as they move forward in the next chapters of their lives.

“[Graduating with] the ability to not only be trained to do a thing, but to ask questions about the thing we’ve been trained to do, and ask, ‘Is that enough?’” Gates said.

The spring 2019 undergraduate commencement will take place May 11.

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