Dr. Ben Kirtman Delivered his First Commencement Speech

Dr. Ben Kirtman delivers Spring 2024 University of Miami Commencement Speech

Dr. Ben Kirtman Delivered his First Commencement Speech

A University of Miami professor who has mentored countless students and a renowned atmospheric scientist who now oversees an institute of 150 scientists working increase our scientific understanding of the earth’s oceans and atmosphere gave graduates a simple but powerful message: To succeed in their careers, Ben Kirtman told graduates, they must persist despite setbacks. And be kind.

Ben Kirtman“Never underestimate the power of kindness,” said Kirtman, a professor and the William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair of Earth Sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science. Kirtman also directs the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, a center of excellence for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The pandemic led to a lot of fear and despair—much like everybody else, my team didn’t know if their future was secure. We learned that kindness, honesty, and transparency develop trust, and this trust helped us work through the fear and despair to increase our productivity and make us even more valuable to the science mission.”

Quoting some of his favorite characters, including Pele, Homer Simpson, Oscar Wilde, and Winnie the Pooh, Kirtman delivered his first commencement address on Thursday, May 9, 2024, and told students that their failures are often more illuminating than their successes. Kirtman admitted he has made errors in his climate research and learned from those experiences. He also failed kindergarten because he couldn’t skip. “Failure is a critical part of the path to success,” he said. “As you progress to your next challenges, please know that an important part of perseverance is not being afraid of failure. In fact, if you’re not failing some, you’re probably not taking enough risks.”

He is also a product of resilience. Regardless of his kindergarten experience, today Kirtman is considered one of the top climate modelers in the nation and helped create one of the first intergovernmental panel reports on climate change for the United Nations. It’s now considered a key document for climate resilience planning across the world.

And despite the unseemly calls he gets at times, Kirtman said kind, encouraging postcards, student interest in climate science, and research funding help motivate him to keep improving upon his models. He also truly enjoys studying the earth’s climate, and urged graduates to find a field they love. “Be kind to yourself and avoid comparisons that suck the joy out of what you are doing,” he said. “I’m fortunate to love what I do; if you ever see someone skipping happily to work on the Rosenstiel campus, that’s me. I can skip now.” Kirtman spoke at the first of seven commencement ceremonies taking place over three days at the University of Miami, with nearly 4,300 students expected to earn their degrees at the Watsco Center located on the Coral Gables campus.


On that Thursday morning, close to 600 graduate students crossed the stage to earn their degrees from the Graduate School, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the School of Law, the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, the Miller School of Medicine, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

University President Julio Frenk congratulated students and emphasized that he recognizes the sacrifices that many students had to make in order to attend the U, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also encouraged students to return to the University throughout their careers, particularly next year, as the institution celebrates its centennial. “Going through these experiences while pursuing an advanced degree has given you the opportunity to learn—and practice—adaptability and resilience,” he said. “No matter where your paths lead you, I can guarantee you this: You’ll continue to use those skills.”

R. Pamela ReidUniversity of Miami literature professor Patrick McCarthyIn addition, retiring faculty members (pictured at right) Patrick McCarthy, a professor who has taught in the Department of English at the College of Arts and Sciences for 48 years, and R. Pamela Reid , a professor who has taught in the Department of Marine Geosciences at the Rosenstiel School for 36 years, were both honored at Thursday’s opening ceremony.

Student speaker Daniel Cutimanco (pictured below) spoke to graduates about his journey to earn his master’s in construction management from the School of Architecture. Cutimanco, a native Spanish speaker who attended college in Peru, overcame his own fears to deliver his speech. After graduation, he will be working at Coastal Construction. “After almost a year and a half I ask myself . . . Who am I? This time I have the answer. I am the sacrifices of my parents and the dreams of a kid who wanted to design and build homes for those who needed them most,” he said. “Fellow graduates, dare to write your own story and conquer your fear. When life gets challenging, remember who you are:  an unstoppable Miami Hurricane.”

Daniel Cutimanco

More than 700 students were expected to matriculate at the afternoon ceremony, which included psychologist Claude Steele as the featured speaker. In all, more than 1,300 graduate students will earn their degrees from the University on Thursday.



SOURCE:  NEWS@TheU Story by Janette Neuwahl Tannen