WFU announces K. Killian Noe (’80) as 2023 commencement speaker

Bishop Kym Lucas (’92) will serve as the baccalaureate speaker


Courtesy of Wake Forest

K. Killian Noe is the founder of the Recovery Café Network.

Christa Dutton, Editor-in-Chief

K. Killian Noe will deliver Wake Forest University’s commencement address on Monday, May 15, Wake Forest announced Friday by email. 

Noe is an author, pastor, community builder, visionary and founder of Recovery Café and the Recovery Café Network. 

Established in 2002, Recovery Cafés provides a space for those experiencing homelessness, addiction and other mental health challenges so that they can feel a sense of belonging and have an opportunity to contribute to the community. When the newest Recovery Cafés open in May 2023, there will be 67 Recovery Café communities across the United States and Vancouver, B.C. The closest one to the Reynolda Campus is in Greensboro, N.C. 

“Given the complex challenge of homelessness in our country, it is especially timely for our graduates to hear from a leader who embodies service and care for humanity in her career,” Wake Forest President Dr. Susan Wente said in an email announcement. “Wake Foresters are called to embody Pro Humanitate at home and in the world. Killian’s commitment to this calling is inspiring and we are fortunate to have her join us.”

Noe is the author of two books: “Finding Our Way Home” and “Descent Into Love” and is a member of Unite — a national nonprofit committed to healing divides in our nation and world.

Noe grew up in South Carolina and is the daughter of 1944 Wake Forest graduate Rev. Harold Killian. She also graduated from Wake Forest in 1980 with a degree in English and was the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award. According to a Wake Forest Magazine profile written about her after she received the honor, her volunteer efforts have taken her across the world. She volunteered with Mother Theresa in India and was a part of racial reconciliation efforts in South Africa in the final days of apartheid. She also spent time learning about silence and solitude among Trappist and Benedictine monks in Hong Kong. 

Wake Foresters are called to embody Pro Humanitate at home and in the world. Killian’s commitment to this calling is inspiring and we are fortunate to have her join us.

— Wake Forest President Dr. Susan Wente

The email also announced that the baccalaureate speaker will be Bishop Kym Lucas (‘92), the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Church in Colorado and the first woman bishop as well as the first African American bishop in the diocese’s 132-year history.

Noe is the first commencement speaker to be selected by the Commencement Speaker Committee — a part of the new governance structure created by Provost Michele Gillespie last fall to organize Commencement Weekend Activities. The committee, comprised of faculty, staff and students, nominated a list of potential guest speakers to submit to President Susan Wente. The committee also created a guiding philosophy to inform the commencement speaker selection process. 

“We recognize the importance and historical significance of the Commencement ceremony to the University,” said Provost Michele Gillespie, who chairs the committee, in an Inside WFU blog post. “We endeavor to involve the entire campus community in the nomination process and identify potential commencement speakers with whom our graduates can really relate and who embody the mission and vision of the University.”

The committee will also take into consideration whether the speaker has close ties to Wake Forest or if the speaker is an alum. 

In April, the committee will begin soliciting nominations for the 2024 speaker.