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Alumna, OSHA senior technical advisor to share message of perseverance during virtual commencement

Kelly Knighton
Kelly Knighton said she was elated to be a commencement speaker this spring, and would share stories that she hoped would help graduates on their path forward.

Kelly C. Knighton always knew that she wanted to be in a profession known for “helping people.” When she was told that careers in occupational safety were up-and-coming for women, she decided that would be her path. After graduating in 1994 from University of Houston-Clear Lake with her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management with a concentration in industrial hygiene and safety, she began her career with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and ultimately became the first female deputy regional administrator and first female regional administrator for OSHA Region VI.

Knighton currently serves as a senior technical advisor for an OSHA directorate in Washington, D. C.

Now she’s giving back to her alma mater, set to deliver the spring 2020 commencement address in hopes of inspiring graduates by sharing with them the lessons she wishes she’d known at the beginning of her own career.

“I always had an interest in ensuring people were kept safe on the job. At a very young age, I have always wanted to help people, whether it was becoming a teacher or a nurse,” Knighton said. “As I heard about the field of occupational safety and health, and learned about the accidents and injuries that could occur on the job, I thought it sounded interesting. When I came to UH-Clear Lake, all my classes directly prepared me for the career that I have now.”

She graduated summa cum laud from UHCL and said that when she began her new career and heard people talking about industrial hygiene and safety, she felt completely ready for the challenge. “A lot of what I did in my career and the laws that applied were directly related to many of the classes I had,” she said.

Knighton said she felt a great sense of community while at UHCL, and finds the friendships she made with her classmates rewarding to this day. “I had such good relationships,” she said. “I had a number of great professors who brought their perspectives and how they applied in the work situation. I loved hearing about what they did in their work lives, because you go to school and you read, but when you can see how things are being applied, it makes it all sink in. I got a lot of great real-life experiences at UHCL.”

As a commencement speaker, Knighton said she was elated and honored to be asked to speak to the spring 2020 graduating class. “I want to convey to graduates some of the lifelong lessons that I learned throughout my life and career,” she said. “It’s about overcoming adversity, perseverance and resilience — things I wish I had known at the beginning of my career, but it took throughout my career to learn them. Anything I can share with students to help them, I hope to do that.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UHCL’s spring 2020 commencement ceremony will be held virtually on July 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Learn more about UHCL’s virtual commencement online.