Kearney native to receive honorary doctorate Friday
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Jon Bokenkamp is used to plot twists.
The creator and executive producer of the hit television series “The Blacklist” has delivered plenty of bombshells since introducing fugitive-turned-FBI informant Raymond “Red” Reddington to the world in 2013.
But even he didn’t see this coming.
Bokenkamp, a talented screenwriter and filmmaker who has worked on several major motion pictures, was at a loss for words while describing his most recent achievement – a doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“Flattered. Just totally flattered,” he said. “I’m actually still trying to process it all.”
The Kearney native will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree during UNK’s spring commencement. He’s also the keynote speaker for the event, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday (May 3) at the Health and Sports Center.
A Kearney High School alumnus, Bokenkamp attended UNK from 1991-93 before transferring to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where he graduated with honors in 1995.
“UNK has been a big part of my life,” Bokenkamp said. “My parents met there back when it was still Kearney State College. I took a few art classes there when I was in high school.”
It’s also where his film career started to develop.
UNK didn’t have a film program, but Tom Draper, then a faculty member in the journalism department, allowed Bokenkamp to design an independent study course in the area.
“I ended up making a film with some classmates – which, in hindsight, was a terrible movie – but it encouraged me to explore,” Bokenkamp said. “I think that’s one of the biggest secrets about UNK; it’s a big university with incredible resources and faculty, but it’s also small enough that there’s a personal element to the education that you don’t find at a larger university.”
“When I showed up at USC, I realized they have more students than Kearney has people,” he added. “That makes for a somewhat different college experience.”
Bokenkamp’s movie credits include “Bad Seed,” “Taking Lives,” “The Call” and “Perfect Stranger,” and he produced two documentaries on drive-in theaters – “Drive-In Movie Memories” and “After Sunset: The Life & Times of the Drive-In Theater.”
“The Blacklist,” starring James Spader and Megan Boone, is in its sixth season on NBC. The show has received Golden Globe, People’s Choice and Emmy Award nominations. A spinoff executive-produced by Bokenkamp, “The Blacklist: Redemption,” ran for eight episodes in 2017.
The honorary degree to be presented Friday recognizes Bokenkamp’s accomplishments and career, as well as his loyalty to UNK and service to the Kearney community. It’s the first honorary degree awarded by UNK since 2008, when former University of Nebraska President Ronald Roskens was recognized for his contributions to higher education.
“Jon is having a terrific career in Hollywood, and we are grateful for his loyalty to UNK, Kearney and the university community,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “UNK is proud to call him a friend, and we continue to enjoy watching him find success, knowing he jump-started his filmmaking career on our campus.”
Bokenkamp returned to Kearney in 2007 with his wife, Kathy, to raise their children in the close-knit community.
Shortly thereafter, he established The World Theatre Foundation and spearheaded a fundraising effort to renovate a 92-year-old former vaudeville house in downtown Kearney. Bokenkamp remains active with the nonprofit, volunteer-run World Theatre as its founder and creative director.
Although he continues to work in Los Angeles, the famous writer and producer will always call Kearney and UNK home.
“I think UNK really defines Kearney,” Bokenkamp said. “It’s what sets us apart from other rural communities our size. I’ve met so many great people from so many different places through UNK, and I find they really open up the conversation and help make Kearney a fresh, unique, ever-evolving community.”