Fall/Winter 2021 Commencement Student Speaker Kimberly Davis finds her path and poetry at UW-Green Bay

Photo of Kimberly Davis
UW-Green Bay Commencement Student Speaker Kimberly Davis

It’s entirely logical to assume that Kimberly Davis, having been selected as the student speaker for a graduating class, has an outstanding record of achievement. She does. And that the praises of her instructors and achievements will follow. But beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, it’s the recognition of her own personal journey that makes her story remarkable. In many ways it’s a path that’s similar to many college students. The big difference? Davis tells hers through poetry.

Watch her Commencement Speech on Livestream Video during the ceremony, beginning at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 18. 2021.

Even today in our seemingly perpetual “uncertain times,” the No. 1 reason for attending college remains steadfast: to embark on a career path you enjoy with a salary to match. Davis, perhaps a romantic throwback to the idealistic nature of college, was seeking something more—a journey of self-discovery. And in that journey, she discovered not only a career, but also a calling, and perhaps best of all, herself.

“I’m not going to lie,” she says. “I originally chose Green Bay because of the private bathrooms in the residence halls.” Bathrooms got her here, but what kept her here was an indefatigable desire to succeed.

Born in Galesburg, Illinois, moving first to Menasha and then to Appleton, Wis., one common denominator was a love of school and libraries. She stills remembers the thrill of checking out her first book from her elementary school library, a graphic novel from the hit-series Baby Mouse. Quite the starting point considering her love and appreciation for poets such as Audre Lorde and Jae Nichelle today.

For Davis, admittedly introspective by nature and a self-described “book geek,” the library became a refuge in high school. Luckily, she enjoyed studying and loved books. “And also, to add to the geekiness, I would eat lunch in the library.”


It was the one-two punch of A.P. courses in English and biology that revealed clues to her collegiate future. “When I came to college, I was thinking English or science. And I landed on English.” As a first-generation college student, Davis focused on learning how to succeed at a four-year university.

She arrived early and took part in “Jump Start” with the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) Office on campus—a seven-day preparatory program for multicultural students learning how to be successful at the University. “It covered the basics,” she recalls. “Getting to know people before class started and finding your classrooms before the hallways are filled.”

It didn’t take long for Davis to find out that what she was really good at, was going to college. Through the years she as accumulated nominations and recognition for prestigious student leadership awards and programs including the Emerging Leader Program, the University Leadership Award, and the Chancellor’s Leadership Medallion. She has also been named Student-of-the-Week, completed the Civic Scholars Program, been inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, and served as a peer mentor with Jump Start. Not bad for someone who in high school who avoided taking on these types of leadership roles.

Mai J. Lo Lee, director of MESA, recalls watching Davis’ transformation from a shy, first-year student to a class leader. “I’ve seen her grow both professionally and personally. And like a Phoenix, Kimberly has risen from ashes numerous times at UW-Green Bay and each time, she has flown farther and with more vibrancy.”

It was in during that “how-to-do-college” process that Davis uncovered not just her major, but also a calling—writing poetry. “I think what really sold English for me was my Women in Literature course. I wrote my first poem as my final. I had never written poetry before college.”

While finding her voice, she was also coming out of her shell:

  • Davis is currently participating in an Editorial Mentorship Program where she assists with sensitivity reading and learns of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) involvement in the publishing industry.
  • Her literary pursuits include digital contributions to two Common CAHSS conferences, both academic works focused around social and racial justice topics. Plus, her creative writing has been published in Creatures Magazine and Querencia Magazine with other publications forthcoming
  • Davis is the 18th graduate of the relatively new Writing and Applied Arts BFA program (which launched in fall 2019)
  • She’s a double major in Writing and Applied Arts (BFA) and English (BA) with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
  • She served as the blog design intern for the Teaching Press at UW-Green Bay. See her work!

So, a scholar, student leader, activist, writer and poet is born. And as for a career path, she plans to pursue a master’s in Library and Information Science alongside her poetic muse. Though committed to a scholarly, thoughtful life, Davis remains grateful for those college lessons learned outside the confines of her beloved libraries. She advises: “Be careful not to hold yourself back, because you are capable of doing things you never thought you’d be capable of.”

Story by Michael Shaw, Marketing and University Communication



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