Rick Putnam, chair of the KU Alumni Association’s national board of directors, addressed graduates at the 2016 Commencement ceremony. Putnam, c’77, l’80, lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Read his remarks below, and click here to see photos from Commencement.
Good morning and congratulations. It is a great day and one you will remember the rest of your lives. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you for just a few minutes. I specifically want to acknowledge those on stage with me and, in particular, the Chancellor. I have had the pleasure to meet with her over the past year on very important issues and want to thank her, on behalf of all KU alumni, for a job well done.
Think back, now, to the last event you attended where they put a stamp on your hand or maybe a bracelet on your wrist (perhaps on your way into the Hawk or the Wheel). It provided you admission to something big, something you were looking forward to. Today you receive a permanent stamp, one that will never wash away – admission to the outside world and for the rest of your lives a graduate of the University of Kansas. You are admitted, thus, to a very prestigious group. You have unlimited access to a powerful Jayhawk network of the best and brightest, and as an insider, an unending opportunity to build upon the relationships you established while here—and create new relationships with your fellow KU alumni.
So, you have the ticket, you have the stamp. We’ll make it even better. Each member of the class of 2016 will receive a gift—a one-year membership in the KU Alumni Association, provided with the help of KU Endowment. Your membership begins this weekend and includes a new KU Alumni Association app, which we hope you will download to receive all of your benefits.
Alumni Association membership will provide you an immediate and ongoing link to KU. You can accept it and do nothing and stand outside the arena; I suggest the better course is to walk in, embrace it and enjoy. Good luck and Rock Chalk.
The NCAA Tournament depends, in part, on the annual rite of building up the underdogs; David versus Goliath is a March Madness mantra that never grows old. So when second-seeded Kansas faces No. 7-seed Wichita State University, it might be expected that anybody who’s not part of the crimson and blue crew in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center will be rooting for the Shockers.
Objection! That’s assuming facts not in evidence, advises Omaha attorney Rick Putnam, c’77, l’80, chair-elect of the Alumni Association’s board of directors.
While the Sunflower State storyline has been hotly coveted by WSU fans since NCAA brackets were revealed last Sunday, the game won’t be contested on a strictly neutral court: CenturyLink is the home arena of the Creighton University Bluejays, a fierce Missouri Valley Conference rival of Wichita State.
“There’s a lot of bad blood between Creighton and Wichita State, a lot of bad blood,” Putnam said during KU’s official pregame rally, hosted by the Alumni Association in partnership with the Williams Education Fund and Kansas Athletics, before Friday’s NCAA opener. “There’s going to be a lot of blue in here cheering for the Jayhawks if we face Wichita State, and it won’t be only our blue. Creighton blue will be here to root for KU.”
Sunday kicks off with the Association’s pregame rally, set to begin at 12:30 p.m. on the second floor of the CenturyLink Center. Game time is 4:15 p.m.
“It will be a big game for our state,” said KU coach Bill Self, “without question.”
When Alumni Association president Kevin Corbett, c’88, took the stage to welcome Jayhawk alumni and fans to the official rally before Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, he told the gathering that he and other members of the Association staff weren’t sure what to expect.
With a rally that began at 8 a.m., ahead of an 11:15 a.m. tipoff, they worried the early hour would keep fans from showing up in time for a gathering of the flock.
“And next thing we know,” Corbett noted to the crowd of about 1,000 Jayhawk faithful, “there’s a line outside the door to get in. Welcome to the Big Dance.”
The early risers soaked in the complete crimson and blue experience. With the giant inflatable Jay towering over the ballroom and D.J. Scott Simpson, ’85, cranking out the tunes, fans frolicked with Baby Jay, found themselves interviewed by television crews and scored official gear from KUStore.com, all while greeting old friends from near and far.
“We’re thrilled to have everyone back in Omaha,” said the Association board’s chair-elect Rick Putnam, c’77, l’80, a local attorney. “Every few years we get to see all of our KU friends return here for the tournament, and it’s always seems to work out well.”
The Jayhawks launched their 2008 national championship run in Omaha, and did the same on their way to the NCAA Tournament title game in 2012. Should they be fortunate enough to advance to the tourney’s second weekend three years from now, the Jayhawks could return again to Omaha, which will host NCAA regional play in 2018.
“Here we are again,” Corbett told the crowd, “ready to begin another run.”
Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, told the KU faithful about a few minutes he spent in the locker room with assistant coaches while coach Bill Self met with the media after the Jayhawks secured their 11th-consecutive Big 12 title. The coaches, Zenger said, thought back to the 72-40 drubbing by Kentucky Nov. 18; from that disappointment emerged 26 victories entering NCAA play, another outright conference championship, a trip to the Big 12 Tournament’s title game and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“The coaches said to me, ‘We’d have taken that and run,'” Zenger recalled. “What a job coach Self has done.”
Noting that KU is in its 26th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, Zenger closed with, “This is what we do, and nobody does it better.”
With the Spirit Squad and basketball band kicking the festivities into high gear, fans sang along with fight songs, the Alma Mater and, of course, the Rock Chalk Chant before descending in droves to the arena below.
The Big Dance had begun.
Check out our photos from today’s pregame party and pep rally in the slideshow below.