Kenneth Kelly to address Auburn University graduates at spring graduation

Distinguished alumnus, executive and philanthropist to deliver commencement address

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Prominent banking executive and philanthropist Kenneth Kelly will address Auburn’s spring 2021 graduates at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, in Jordan-Hare Stadium, kicking off the university’s commencement weekend.

Kelly, a 1990 Auburn graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering who also holds an MBA from the University of Alabama, is chairman and CEO of First Independence Bank of Detroit, the seventh-largest African American-controlled bank in the country, and chairman of MAC Leasing, a Michigan-based and minority-owned equipment lease financier. He currently serves on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Advisory Committee on Community Banking, sits on the American Bankers Association Board of Directors and recently completed a three-year term on the Federal Reserve Bank’s Seventh District Community Depository Institution Advisory Council.

“I am humbled to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2021 in one of the greatest venues in our nation,” said Kelly. “Auburn University provided a foundation for me that was life-changing, and having the opportunity to share this impact is an honor and tribute to all my family, instructors, classmates, peers and administrators who believed in me. My goal will be to ensure that the Class of 2021 knows that I believe in them.”

Prior to entering the financial sector, Kelly served in numerous leadership roles for the Southern Company. During his nearly 30-year career with the energy corporation, he negotiated the company’s $500 million investment in its first solar facility located in the state of California. Kelly also led acquisitions of solar projects totaling $3.4 billion in partnership value, producing $146 million in first-year net income.

To empower the next generation of Auburn engineers, Kelly established an endowment for minority engineering students from his hometown of Eufaula, Alabama. In honor of this commitment, the university’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering named the Engineering Academic Excellence Program Office Suite Reception Area in the Brown-Kopel Engineering Student Achievement Center in his honor. He served as vice chair and treasurer of the Auburn University Engineering Alumni Council before becoming chair last year, making him the first African American to chair the council in its 55-year history. 

A native of Eufaula, Alabama, Kelly understands the importance of service and uses his talents to promote positive change within his community. In 2000, Kelly was honored with the Mervyn Stern Award from United Way for the most outstanding contribution in leadership to the fundraising campaign that raised more than $26 million for the five counties in the Birmingham metro area.

“Kenneth Kelly personifies the value of an Auburn degree and the potential it holds,” Auburn President Jay Gogue said. “He is a true servant leader, and his efforts have made an impact on his profession as well as on our students, who are empowered by the expertise and resources he shares.”

In addition to his knowledge as a cross-functional leader in business and banking, Kelly also leads in community and civic endeavors. Kelly became the first “full-time loaned executive” from Alabama Power to the United Way organization in Mobile, Alabama. He is a founding member of the Hands-On Birmingham, or HOB, organization, whose mission is to connect people with organized and meaningful volunteer opportunities to improve their community. Kelly is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 100 Black Men, the National Black MBA Association and a board of director of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Throughout his career, Kelly has attained several noteworthy achievements and awards. In 2018, Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Auburn Engineer Award, an honor granted to less than 140 individuals over the last 50 years across more than 35,000 engineering graduates. That same year, he was presented the Spirit of Detroit Award by the Detroit City Council. More recently, Kelly was inducted into the prestigious state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2020. Kelly has been included in the Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 and has been recognized for his leadership in Georgia by the Henry County Chamber, Council for Quality Growth and 100 Black Men of Atlanta. 

The commencement address will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, in Jordan-Hare Stadium and is open to all graduates and families. Following the address will be the group recognition of graduates with academic honors, conferral of degrees by the Board of Trustees and the Graduate School ceremony for masters and doctoral graduates. Undergraduate commencement ceremonies will be held in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, May 1. Additional information is available on the commencement website, and information will be posted on the commencement Facebook and Instagram accounts.

All ceremonies will be live-streamed, with recordings provided on the commencement website following the weekend’s festivities. Graduates and their families are encouraged to check the website regularly, as event plans may change based on the pandemic or weather.

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.