Actress Kym Whitley motivates students to follow their passions

Brittany Rees

Follow your passions, be persistent and never settle. These things will lead to success, comedian Kym Whitley told students Monday night in the Kiva.

“The power of passion is the beginning of everything,” Whitley said. “It is the gasoline in your tank.”

Whitley came to Kent State as the second guest lecturer for the Center for Student Involvement’s Leadership Speaker series.

Introducing the event, Kent State’s Delta Sigma Theta chapter president Jasmin James listed off Whitley’s accomplishments to bursts of applause.

“Kym proves herself a leader by being more than just a pretty face,” James said. “She’s started her own charity. She’s a producer, and she’s been a successful actress for years.”

 Known for her roles in movies “I Love You, Man” and “Along Came Polly,” Whitley talked about her start in Hollywood.

“I was an understudy for a play called ‘Beauty Shop,’ and I was hoping someone would drop out,” Whitley said. “No one did. So I went up to the director and I said, ‘Have you ever thought about adding a churchgoer to the shop?’ He told me he’d think about it and the next day, I was in the play.”

Whitley said that being persistent and thinking creatively led her to succeed.

“Throughout the ‘Beauty Shop’ tour, I kept going back to the director, saying ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if-’ or ‘I think it might be a good idea to-’ and eventually, he gave me a new job,” she said. “I was Kym Whitley, assistant director.”

Though she’s a Hollywood actor now, Whitley is a Cleveland native who has ties to Kent State University.

“Her parents actually met at Kent State,” said Della Marie Marshall, senior assistant director for CSI and coordinator of the speaker series. “Ms. Whitley’s father graduated from our architecture program and helped build the fashion building.”

During her speech, Whitley’s father and brother sat in the audience.

“My parents gave me some of the greatest advice I’ve ever gotten,” Whitley said. “They told me to get my degree and then go off to do whatever I wanted to do. Most importantly, they told me that I could always come home.”

She explained her success by telling students she always looked ahead.

“Never be satisfied,” Whitley said. “There’s always something next. There’s always a higher level.”

Author Chaz Pitts-Kyser will speak Oct. 15 as the next lecturer in the series.

Contact Brittany Rees at [email protected].