Coming full circle — UI alumni achieves dream of becoming a doctor with honorary degree

In the early spring of 1974, Kenton Bird walked into the University of Idaho Wallace Complex on assignment for The Argonaut.

Bird, director of General Education at UI, was sent to cover the ASUI Senate meeting for that week — a task he’d done many times before.

But during that particular meeting, a new face appeared, one that Bird had not seen in that setting before.

“There was a well-dressed (student). I don’t think he was wearing a suit, but maybe a jacket and tie, sitting in the audience,” Bird said. “For somebody to be there other than (myself ), the senate and other ASUI members was unusual, so I introduced myself afterward.”

Bird said he didn’t know at the time that he’d introduced himself to the next ASUI president and the future governor of Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne.

Kempthorne developed a love for the Pacific Northwest when he was a child living in Spokane. Despite later moving to California, he never forgot the area.

“After high school, I really wanted to get back to Northwest, I wanted to get back to where you had four seasons,” Kempthorne said. “I fell in love with (UI) … I didn’t know a soul in Idaho, but some of the best days of my life were (there), and I knew it at the time.”

Kempthorne said he originally pursued a degree in pre-medicine with the intention of later becoming a doctor, but found himself struggling with the coursework involved.

“I didn’t do very well in chemistry or physics,” he said. “Those books were always on the, I think, the fourth floor of the library, and I often found myself only getting past the third floor, where the political science (books) and newspapers were.”

Kempthorne said he reassessed his passions and switched his major to political science.

He was involved with several student organizations on campus, and served as the dormitory president of Whitman Hall before running for ASUI president in 1974.

“He was a political novice in the sense that he was not known as an ASUI prospect at the time,” Bird said. “But, Dirk squeaked out a victory … It was as if he had been preparing all his life to be ASUI president.”

The role of ASUI president was one of many that Kempthorne would go on to play politically. He not only became the governor of Idaho, but he also served as the mayor of Boise, an Idaho and U.S. senator and the secretary of the interior under former President George W. Bush.

Kempthorne said he credits much of that success to his education at UI.

He said he was surprised and humbled when he discovered he would receive an honorary doctorate from UI at the commencement ceremony May 13.

“There is an irony, because initially I went to the University of Idaho to become a doctor and now I’m being invited back to be designated a doctor,” Kempthorne said. “I feel such a great honor that my alma mater considers me worthy of that title.”

Olivia Heersink can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @heersinkolivia 


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