Ken White did not need a college degree for business success. However, he began to feel he needed one for other, perhaps more important, reasons.
“I tried the college route a couple times when I was younger,” he said. “Life got in the way.”
On Friday morning, Ken will receive his diploma from Wichita State University at Charles Koch Arena. Walking nearby will be Micah White, his son, who will receive the diploma he earned last fall in a ceremony delayed by COVID-19 restrictions. They will be the first on their side of the family to earn a college degree.
“It’s going to be special to me to share it with Micah,” he said. “It will be good to exhale and get a hug.”
Ken White, founder and chief financial officer of Howerton+White marketing agency, earned his Bachelor of Applied Arts in media arts, majoring in audio production. Micah earned his degree from the School of Music in jazz performance with a guitar emphasis.
“It all kind of coalesced together,” Micah said. “He showed me it was more than possible. I definitely knew that I would never live it down if somehow he managed to graduate before me.”
Ken started college at the University of Louisville in applied math and computer science. He quit to play bluegrass music and launched a career playing the guitar, banjo and mandolin. He lived in Nashville and then Wichita. The life of a musician didn’t fit with fatherhood, so he became a web developer in 1995 and founded Howerton+White with Nicole Howerton in 2002 on their kitchen tables.
Micah, who attended Wichita Collegiate School, started his college work at the University of North Texas. He returned to Wichita and Wichita State as a sophomore. He had his father’s example to follow. Robin Macy, his stepmother, remembers making him pinky-promise to get a degree.
“It’s just always bugged me to have put so much time into something and then get a foot away from the finish line, and then not just do the little bit of extra work to finally cross,” Micah said. “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t see it through to the end.”
Ken, who owns Bartlett Arboretum with Robin, wanted his son to get a degree and told him that it would grow more difficult as he delayed. But Ken also realized the diploma mattered for other reasons.
“I finally realized that maybe my angst about Micah finishing is more about myself,” he said. “I had always wanted to finish a degree, but I had a couple of careers since then. It wasn’t like the degree was going to get me a new job. I had to reexamine it: ‘Yes, I wanted a degree. I need to do this for myself.”
By doing it for himself, he set an example for his son, who teaches guitar lessons and plays with the jazz-rock fusion band Daydream.
“I wanted him to value an education,” Ken said. “Ultimately, it was up to him. Not only did I want to get a degree for me, but I also felt like that would show him how much I valued the experience.”