Not many people have the honor of signing their own child’s college diploma. Greg Knott, MS ’17 IS, MBA ’19 UIS, former University of Illinois Board of Trustees (BOT) secretary, has had that unusual privilege not just once, but three times for his daughter, Riley Knott, ’21 ACES, MS ’22 MEDIA.
Greg joined the BOT in January 2020 and retired this April. As BOT secretary, he signed his daughter’s diploma twice. First, in May 2021, when Riley earned her bachelor’s degree studying agricultural leadership, education and communications as an undergraduate, then in November 2022, when she earned her master’s degree in strategic brand communication. Greg also signed Riley’s first college diploma as board chairman at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) when she earned her associate’s degree in 2019.
As BOT secretary, Greg’s signature appeared on every U of I diploma along with the signatures of the BOT president, U of I chancellor and UI System president. Before retiring, Greg kept a photo in his office of one of his predecessors in the 1940s with stacks of diplomas on his desk that he was signing by hand.
Now, diplomas are printed with the signatures. But for Riley, the fifth generation in her family to graduate from Illinois, Greg printed the diplomas without the signatures so that he and other University officials could personally sign them. Because of COVID-19, regular Commencement ceremonies were not held in 2021, but Riley was able to witness President Timothy Killeen, Chancellor Robert Jones, UI System Board Chair Donald Edwards, ’88 BUS, and her father sign her diploma in person at a board meeting in Chicago.
Greg said that having the chance to participate in the recognition of Riley’s achievement was very special. “Wherever she goes and takes those diplomas, it’s like Dad is watching over her,” he says. “She’s got Dad’s signature.”