The evening started with a rainbow that arced perfectly behind the commencement stage.
And it ended with a fireworks display in the night skies above Richmond.
In between, Eastern Kentucky University’s Spring 2015 graduating class was exhorted by Lt. Gov. “Crit” Luallen on Friday, May 15, to help build “a new Kentucky.”
Luallen, who has held a variety of elected and appointed positions in a career in public service spanning 41 years, came with a “special message” for those with roots in eastern Kentucky.
“Eastern Kentucky, more than any region,” she said, “has a special spirit, a deep sense of pride in your culture and a strong sense of place. And that love of place will be the key to eastern Kentucky’s future.
“There is so much to be proud of and so many reasons to build a new future for the region that will provide opportunities for anyone who wants to stay to be able to,” said Luallen, who noted her own ancestors came through the Cumberland Gap and up the Wilderness Road. “Today we are working to build a new Kentucky for this new century so that you and your children will have opportunities to stay near your roots if that is your choice.”
Luallen said the Commonwealth is “moving in the right direction” in job creation, economic development, education and health care. “But that progress is clearly not reaching every corner of Kentucky, and we need your generation to be the leaders who will take us successfully into the future.
“Much of the past of eastern Kentucky was built on the hard work, the sweat, and the sacrifice of those who labored in coal mines so you could celebrate this milestone tonight,” Luallen continued. “And now you are armed with the tools to participate in the new economy, carrying with you that legacy of hard work and personal responsibility. There is a critical need for your leadership, in Kentucky and in this region. Your families have sacrificed for your accomplishments here tonight and we are now calling on you to give back to society, to help us build a better future. And if your future is not here, help to build a better future wherever your journey takes you.”
Luallen also received an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Stephanie Smith, Barbourville, who earned a master’s degree in public health, delivered the student commencement address. She urged her fellow graduates to approach life with an optimistic attitude of “Why not?”
Alexandria Ryan Sowers, of Lexington, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in history and comparative humanities, was presented the President’s Outstanding Senior Award for 2015.
The ceremony also featured a fly-over by EKU Aviation Program representatives in two University aircraft.
This spring, Eastern recognized 2,068 candidates for bachelor’s degrees, 551 candidates for master’s degrees, 106 candidates for associate degrees, 22 candidates for specialist degrees and 17 candidates for doctoral degrees for a total of 2,764.