Meet the Student Speaker and Soloist for Bucknell's 173rd Commencement
April 26, 2023
by Brooke Thames
Kaia Rendo '23 will graduate from Bucknell with degrees in English — creative writing, political science and Spanish. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
Ask Kaia Rendo '23 what sold her on attending Bucknell, and you won't hear about the gorgeous buildings, the packed student-life calendar or even the diverse academic offerings. You'll hear about the people.
"I absolutely loved the small, welcoming community on this campus," says Rendo, an English — creative writing, political science and Spanish triple-major from Elmwood Park, N.J. "When I visited for the first time, I immediately thought, 'This is perfect. This is it.' "
That visit was in late May of Rendo's senior year of high school, after she'd come off of the admissions waitlist. This spring, she'll finish her Bucknell journey on the Commencement stage, where she'll address the Class of 2023 as this year's student speaker.
Her message — partly inspired by a run-in with an alum during an Outdoor Education & Leadership trip to Iceland — will reflect on the warmth, strength and long-lasting impact of the Bucknell community.
"Walking to class, it's impossible not to see one or two people that you know. It's amazing how that experience extends beyond campus and into the real world as well," Rendo says. "Even though we're leaving this physical place, that doesn't mean that Bucknell is no longer going to be a part of who we are or that the people we met here will no longer be there to support us. That idea of carrying this University with us for the rest of our lives is what I really wanted to share with the class."
When she graduates, Rendo will carry much more than a diploma. She'll walk into the future with invaluable skills and relationships garnered through her various roles on campus. In addition to leading multiple student organizations (Pre-law Society, Minority Law Society and Mock Trial), she served as a peer consultant at the Writing Center and an executive intern in President John Bravman's office. After spending her first year living in the Social Justice Residential College, Rendo also took a position as a residential advisor (RA) — a decision that was inspired by former RA and 2021 Commencement student speaker Ruby Lee '21, who led Rendo's tour during her first campus visit.
As a first-generation college student, Rendo says she's proud to add her Commencement speech to her list of accomplishments.
"Coming to college was a big deal for me, and there was so much that I had to navigate on my own," says Rendo, who plans to pursue an international law degree at the University of Pennsylvania after graduation. "I can't wait to see my parents' faces and give them the pride of seeing me up there on the stage."
Performance of a Lifetime
Kicking off Commencement with a rendition of the national anthem will be Tom McKillop '23, a music and history double-major from Scarsdale, N.Y.
Like most kids, McKillop began singing on stage in elementary school music programs, but it was in middle school and high school that he ultimately found a home at center stage. He thanks his high school's production of Little Shop of Horrors for giving him the confidence to fully pursue performance.
"Playing a main role as a sophomore allowed me to step into the spotlight in a way that I hadn't yet," he says. "It validated my talent and shaped my love of music and musical theatre."
As a music major at Bucknell, McKillop honed in on vocal performance and sought out additional opportunities through programs like Bucknell Voice Lab, which offers training in a variety of genres — from musical theatre and opera to jazz and singer-songwriter.
Music and history double-major Tom McKillop '23 says performing the national anthem is something he's always wanted to do. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications.
As far as his favorite musical experience at Bucknell, "it'd have to be directing the Beyond Unison a cappella group," McKillop says. "It's definitely contributed to my growth as a leader and a musician. A lot of musicians are perfectly talented on their own, but I got to blend the talents of 16 individuals and help them grow and succeed together. That was the biggest highlight for me."
When it comes to singing the "Star Spangled Banner" for his family, mentors and classmates, McKillop says he couldn't be more excited.
"I've never sung the national anthem at a big event, but it's something I've always wanted to do," he says. "I won't be pursuing music after Bucknell, so this could be the last time that a lot of people — including my family — hear me sing on a public stage. I'm excited to perform at Commencement as a thank you to them."
With hopes of becoming a history teacher, McKillop will pursue a master's in social studies education at Columbia University's Teachers College after graduation.
Bucknell's 173rd Commencement
This year's Commencement is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 14, 2023, on Malesardi Quadrangle. Tickets are not required for Commencement if held outside on Malesardi Quad.