2020, 2021 Grads to be Honored at Kettering University's Atwood Stadium; GM Exec Gerald Johnson to Give Commencement Speeches

Kettering University will recognize the graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 with a weekend of events June 18-20 with Academic Honors events and Commencement ceremonies in-person following the recent elimination of COVID-19 restrictions for outdoor events within the state of Michigan.

“The entire Kettering community is excited to come together to acknowledge and celebrate in person the incredible determination, dedication and commitment to success embodied in the classes of 2020 and 2021 — not only through a global pandemic, but throughout their time at the University,” said University President Dr. Robert K. McMahan. “COVID-19 presented challenges that we not only have overcome but have seized as opportunities to grow and connect in new ways. Now we come together with our students and their family and friends to honor and celebrate them and their hard-earned achievements.” 

Commencement ceremonies for both classes will be June 19 at Atwood Stadium at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. for the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021, respectively.

This is the first time two ceremonies will be held on the same day. In the last year, multiple plans were drafted to provide a safe ceremony, but as guidelines changed surrounding the pandemic, so did the plans. Now, with the move to a bigger venue and relaxed restrictions, graduates and their guests will experience a ceremony as if it were pre-COVID.

The University previously had a Commencement ceremony at Atwood Stadium in 1955 but recently has been hosting the event in the Connie and Jim John Recreation Center. The change in venue will allow for audience members to see the full academic processional of students as they make their way from the Flint River Trail, through the parking lot to their seats on the field. The processional wasn’t as easy to see as everyone was seated at the same level on the floor of the Rec Center.

Another new element this year is the virtual recognition of graduates who can’t be at the ceremonies in person. Their names will be called, but instead of crossing the stage, their name and picture will be displayed on the screens.

Commencement ceremonies also will be live-streamed with closed captioning. In the event of inclement weather, Commencement ceremonies will be held the next day, June 20.

GM Executive To Give Address at Both Ceremonies

Gerald Johnson ('85), Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing at General Motors
Gerald Johnson ('85)
Executive Vice President
Global Manufacturing
at General Motors

Kettering alumnus Gerald Johnson (‘85) will be the featured speaker for both the 2020 and 2021 ceremonies on that day. Johnson, Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing at General Motors, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Administration from Kettering University and a Master’s Degree in Manufacturing Operations from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a member of the University’s Board of Trustees and has been a proponent of Kettering’s AIM program targeted toward increasing the number of underrepresented students in the pursuit of engineering and management degrees.

“After more than a year of unprecedented upheaval from COVID-19, continuing inequities in our society and ever-present climate threats, we are at a crossroad. Call it an inflection point — a moment in time and history when everything changes from technology to our communities,” Johnson said. “The collaborative knowledge and cooperation fostered at Kettering puts these graduates in a very unique and advantageous position to play a vital role in reshaping our society and establishing the new collective dynamic.”

Johnson started his career at GM more than 40 years ago as a Co-op student at Kettering University, then General Motors Institute, rising to the highest manufacturing position in the company. In this position, he oversees 103,000 employees at 129 facilities in 16 countries, on five continents. Johnson was the first Black person to lead GM’s North American manufacturing operations and served as GM Europe’s first African American Executive Director of Manufacturing. 

He was honored to receive the BEYA Black Engineer of the Year Award in 2021, the Manufacturing Leader of the Year Award from the Manufacturing Leadership Council in 2021, the SAE Subir Chowdhury Medal of Quality Leadership in 2018, the Kettering Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award for his work in manufacturing in 2013, and the Michigan Chronicle’s Fifth Annual Men of Excellence Award in 2012. 

Additional Events to Celebrate Student Success

The weekend will kick off at noon, June 18 with the Class of 2020’s Academic Honors Luncheon and the Class of 2021 event on Saturday, June 19 at noon. President’s Medalists, Sobey Scholars, students graduating summa cum laude, the Outstanding Thesis awardee and the undergraduate commencement speakers will receive their awards at this invitation-only event.

President’s Medals are awarded to students who have demonstrated excellence in cooperative employment, scholarship and community engagement.  Sobey Scholar awards are given to students who were elected to an academic honor society and Kettering’s Robots Honor society, which recognizes outstanding leadership, service and citizenship to the university community. Summa cum laude students earned a grade point average of 3.90 or higher. This achievement represents the highest academic distinction. The Outstanding Thesis Award recognizes excellence in the Senior Thesis. The recipient is selected by the awardee’s thesis advisor, the Senior Thesis Committee and the Director of the Center for Integrated Learning.