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Denny Kellington
Oklahoma State University's 2023 spring commencement speaker Denny Kellington

Bills athletic trainer returns to Oklahoma State University to deliver commencement address

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

Kellington speaks publicly for first time following lifesaving actions on the field

Oklahoma State University alumnus Denny Kellington returned to his alma mater Saturday to speak at OSU’s spring commencement ceremonies inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

The Buffalo Bills athletic trainer shared with more than 3,500 graduates how his time at OSU provided him a solid foundation for his career path. Kellington, a native of Midwest City, Oklahoma, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in health and human performance in 2000. 

Public speaking is not something Kellington would normally seek out. But on Jan. 2, his career as an athletic trainer changed dramatically, and countless interview requests followed.

That day, Kellington was part of the athletic training team that saved Damar Hamlin’s life on live television during a Monday Night Football broadcast after the Bills safety suffered a cardiac event on the field. 

“The reason anyone knows Denny Kellington is because of one fateful and near-tragic moment on a football field,” Kellington said. “… Our safety Damar Hamlin had a cardiac event that could have ended his life in front of his family, his teammates, his coaches, our athletic training staff and the millions of football fans watching in the stadium, or from the comfort of their living room TVs.”

“... All the attention I've received for simply doing my job has been overwhelming. I've said repeatedly that I am not a hero, but I will tell you what I was that day, I was ready.”

Kellington turned down many interview requests about that night. However, he said yes to OSU and President Kayse Shrum for a couple of reasons:

“One, I am genuinely grateful, as I've already stated, for the role that this university played in my personal path to success,” Kellington said. “But also I've realized I’m now the experienced guy in the room, and I take my responsibility to share my knowledge with others seriously, hopefully, like a lot of older people did for me when I was the one sitting where you are.”

Kellington said he hopes each graduate’s future days pass without incident, but they should take comfort in knowing their OSU education has prepared them to face any crisis. 

“When unexpected doors open, or life changes course, trust that your experiences have led you there and you will be ready,” Kellington said. “Today, as you ponder the next steps of your career, I want you to think about who helped get you here. Be proud of your hard work, but also be grateful for those who cheered you on, those who sacrificed and those who saw potential in you and made sure you knew your capabilities. 

“Understand this: small things done with passion and intention have the potential to make a lasting impact with ripple effects that you may never understand.”

Shrum presided over OSU’s 146th commencement and was joined at the lectern by Kellington; Dr. Ki Cole, OSU faculty chair; Jarold Callahan, OSU A&M Board of Regents chair; and Riley Pritzlaff, Student Government Association president.

“For many of us, our time at OSU represents some of the best times of our lives,” Callahan said. “OSU has played a critical role leading to successful careers and lifelong friendships. On special days, like today, we recognize just how important OSU is to all of us.”

Tyler Lane, a mechanical engineering graduate, walked across the stage Saturday looking forward to his next journey with a career in manufacturing, but he will miss the friends and connections he made at OSU. 

“There are a lot of good people here and a lot of friends that you make along the way, good people to study with, and those you just enjoy time with,” Lane said. “I’m grateful for my time at OSU but I will miss the people.”

Like Lane, horticulture business graduate Faith Shirley said she will miss the Cowboy culture and community. She said she didn’t know what to expect from Kellington’s address, but drew familiar inspiration from it. 

“I was really impressed by his message about being ready and being prepared,” said Shirley, a Tulsa native. “When Kellington said, ‘Remember who you are,’ which is something my dad always said to me, I really connected because it meant something.”

Graduate students and the College of Veterinary Medicine had their ceremonies Friday. OSUIT had its ceremony on April 21. OSU-Tulsa will hold its commencement ceremony on Monday, OSU-Oklahoma City held its graduation Friday and the OSU Center for Health Sciences celebrated its graduates Saturday.

All commencement ceremony videos can be found on Inside OSU.


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