An actor who has appeared on stage and on screen will speak at Kansas Wesleyan University’s graduation this spring.
According to KWU, distinguished alumnus Jernard Burks ’90 will serve as the 2024 Commencement speaker.
“I’m truly honored to be selected as the 2024 Commencement speaker,” said Burks, “And I’m excited to share a few life lessons that I’ve learned through the years. I hope it will make the graduates’ transition into this world more purposeful, intentional, creative and productive.”
Burks studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and with the late Broadway director Gene Frankel at Frankel’s acting studio.
One of Burks’ first professional plays was the off-Broadway show “Orestes” directed by Tina Landau. His first major film role came in 1994 in the acclaimed film “Devil in a Blue Dress” with two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
He has been featured in several box-office hits such as “The Hangover,” “Four Brothers,” “Bringing Down the House,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “Dolomite Is My Name,” among others.
In the world of theatre, Burks had the honor of working with two-time Pulitzer Prize playwright August Wilson in the play “Seven Guitars.” He has worked in regional theatres in the U.S., including Seattle Rep, Hartford Stage and the Alley Theatre.
He has numerous television credits and can be seen in a new show called “How to Die Alone.”
As a writer, Burks developed a play called “King of the Blues,” based on the life of blues great B.B. King, which had its workshop premiere at Theatre Salina in 2013.
While at KWU, Burks was named Honorable Mention All-American and three-time First Team All-Conference as a defensive tackle in football. He was inducted into the KWU Jerry Jones Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
Burks was onstage in numerous KWU theatre productions and was a regional finalist for the Irene Ryan Theatre Scholarship for a graduate program. Burks also won several speech tournament awards while at KWU, competing against Division 1 schools.
Burks has come back to Salina often to perform at Theatre Salina in conjunction with KWU and the city of Salina. In 2004 he and his late wife, Carla, were part of Salina’s production of “The Piano Lesson.”
In 2012 Burks returned to Salina to perform in Wilson’s play “Fences.” The Salina NAACP gave him an award that year as the guest speaker for the annual Freedom Fund Luncheon.
Burks is a widower and the proud father of his son, Jason.
The 2024 KWU Commencement ceremony will take place Saturday, May 11 at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina.