UK’s selection of graduation speaker lacks thoughtfulness

Kernel Editorial Board

On Saturday, May 8, hundreds of students from the graduating class of 2010 will parade into Rupp Arena, adorned in caps and gowns, waving to family and loved ones and anticipating the next great venture in their lives.

After four or so years at UK, their moment has arrived: commencement.

Each year, UK chooses a commencement speaker who they hope will inspire the graduating class and tell them to achieve great things.

This person has a background of success in whatever field he or she’s gone into and wisdom to share with the graduating seniors.

It should come as no surprise the university has chosen David Novak, chairman, president and CEO of Yum! Brands in Louisville as this year’s speaker.

Yum! Brands owns an estimated 34,000 franchised chains in America, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and A&W Restaurant.

With the success the company has seen in both sales and branding, Novak’s experience as a leader is obvious. He’s been in senior management positions at Pepsi-Cola Co. and now runs a corporation that is in Kentucky and hires Kentuckians.

Yet in this day and age, isn’t it time the university begins moving away from speakers who’ve made their money from an industry perpetuating this state’s struggle with obesity rates?

A 2008 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined 64.7 percent of white Kentuckians as obese — higher than the national average of 59.6 percent.

While it is commendable that Novak has run a successful company and has helped lead it to become a great beacon of the state, isn’t it time the university begins recognizing leaders who run successful companies that also help with the welfare of our nation?

Sure, we can blame the obesity issue on the people who indulge in KFC and other fast foods, but Yum! Brands definitely isn’t helping the situation.

Here’s what it comes down to: In 2003, the medical costs attributable to obesity reached $75 billion, half of which fell on taxpayers.

While people can’t blame one food source for the obesity issue in this nation, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Needless to say, we’re disappointed.

In a time where innovation and socially-conscious companies are making their way into the industry, it would be fitting to choose a progressive commencement speaker — one who inspires our class to make their millions by doing good.

It’s possible — look at Student Activities Boards’ speaker, Blake Mycoskie, who has created a successful, profitable business in selling shoes and giving back a pair to those in need with each sale.

It’s time we stop patting fat-cat CEOs on the back for making their millions off of the misfortune and unhealthiness of others.

Keep this in mind for next year, UK. Novak was a good choice, but you can do better.