Commencement Speaker Stresses the Value of Human Kindness

by Public Relations | May 14, 2018

May 12, 2018

197 Archabbot Douglas, Maxwell King, Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B.

Maxwell King, the president and chief executive officer of The Pittsburgh Foundation and the former executive director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, told Saint Vincent College graduates and their families and friends at the college’s 172nd annual commencement ceremony on May 12 that simple human kindness can serve as a counterpoint in the current age of complexity.

“While most commencement speakers give graduates advice about going out into the world to be happy and successful, I am going to skip most of that,” King began after being welcomed to the podium with the music of Fred Rogers’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor? “The world you are going out to is extraordinarily complex, intense and fast-paced. I respect the challenges you face and the complex work you will do in all facets of society whether it is in business, entertainment, sports or other fields in this age of acceleration.”

Today I want to focus on the counterpoint to that intensity and complexity – the value of human kindness. It may sound silly or simplistic but it is the single most important thing in the world. When you think back on the people who have made a difference in your life whether it was your parents, your teachers, a friend or a stranger, it is the human kindness that you most remember.”

King, who is completing work on a biography of the late Fred Rogers that will be released in September, shared stories about people who had made a difference in his life and how Rogers had made a difference in peoples’ lives by always putting human kindness first. A story about a little boy who approached Rogers in a quiet restaurant with the news that his dog had died was embraced by the graduates and their families after King told them how Rogers interrupted his dinner to sit on the floor with the boy and explain death to him as kindly as he could. Another story was about how Rogers stopped on his way to an appointment in New York City to talk with a homeless person despite the fact that he was running very late. Rogers’ widow, Joanne Byrd Rogers, was a special guest at the ceremony.

Another story was about Pittsburgh Steelers veteran Franco Harris who changed his plans on a busy day to spend several hours visiting and showing human kindness with a patient dying from cancer.

“As you go through your life, I ask you to think about what is really needed to meet all the challenges you will face,” he concluded. “I ask you to think about living intentionally, not accidentally or just responding to a request or deadline, but in the middle of it to live intentionally and focus on sharing the crucial value of human kindness.”

Three hundred and twenty-six undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded at the ceremony.

Since 2014, Maxwell King has served as president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, a 73-year-old philanthropic organization with more than $1.2 billion in total assets and more than 2,200 individual donor funds. The Foundation works to improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region by evaluating and addressing community issues, promoting responsible philanthropy and connecting donors to the region’s critical needs.

He earned a bachelor of arts degree cum laude from Harvard University in 1967 and attended the Stanford Executive Program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

King served for two years as executive director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. He said that what he missed most about Saint Vincent was the tranquility of the campus where he enjoyed long walks at lunchtime throughout the beautiful grounds and the hospitality extended to him by the Benedictine monks.

King was also recognized with the conferral of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree presented by the Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., archabbot and chancellor, Saint Vincent College, and Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., president of Saint Vincent.

In making the presentation, Br. Norman read the citation: “Maxwell Evarts Perkins King is the son of a mill worker, and the grandson of a book editor, who happened to have worked with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps it was that unique upbringing that led him to view peoples’ lives through a different lens. His experiences as a merchant marine, a journalist and a philanthropic leader have shown him the challenges and opportunities individuals faced in the past and today. Upon graduating from Harvard University, he took his first job in journalism where he thrived in the process of gathering information, gaining deeper understanding of a problem, analyzing the situation and responding in a way that convinces people to take action. That journalistic process proved to be a great approach to run a large-scale philanthropic organization. As president of The Heinz Endowments for nearly a decade, Mr. King provided the leadership and vision in directing more than $500 million in grants to strengthen the southwestern Pennsylvania community. Mr. King’s desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children and improve their education and opportunities brought him to the Saint Vincent College community as the second executive director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s media. Stepping down as director in 2010, Mr. King continued his work with the Fred Rogers Center as a senior fellow authoring the Fred Rogers biography to be released in September. But Mr. King wasn’t done making an impact in our region. His current undertaking is community- and donor-based philanthropy at The Pittsburgh Foundation. As president and CEO, he oversees a one billion dollar charitable fund. His work speaks to a deep, lifelong commitment to public service and civic good. His is a tribute to the inherent value of a liberal arts education and compassionate citizenship. His leadership has improved lives, educational institutions and the world around us through commitments to improving the environment. With all he has done, Mr. King still likes to think of himself as a newspaper man, but we like to think of him as a man of principles.”

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Photo: Maxwell King, center, receives an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., left, and Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., president, before he delivered the commencement address.

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