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When Tyler Swafford accepted a football scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University, his coaches, classmates, and even family questioned his decision to choose EKU over a “brand-name” university. But, from the moment he first stepped onto Campus Beautiful, his mind was made up.

As the Franklin, Tennessee, native delivered the student commencement address for the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences on May 13, he reflected on the idea of an institution’s “brand” and asked: What is the Colonel brand? What is it that makes Eastern unique?

Swafford answered his own question in three words: culture of caring.

The term “culture of caring” was first coined by President Doug Whitlock, who led EKU from 2007 to 2013, to describe the compassion that the campus has not only for its students, but the Richmond community, and beyond.

Swafford has experienced that culture of caring first hand during his time as a Colonel. He witnessed it when he traveled to Haiti with the football team to serve at an orphanage. He felt it as the campus community rallied together in support of law enforcement after the death of Richmond Police Officer Daniel Ellis.

Every person at EKU, Swafford explained, helps foster the culture of caring. From professors, coaches, and advisers who dedicate their time and resources to making sure students receive the best education possible, to those very students who pursue their education while working around the clock, playing sports, or taking care of their families, every Colonel makes a difference.

Swafford said he especially noticed the culture of caring in EKU’s diversity, its inclusiveness despite differences. As an Honors student, he worked closely with professors David Coleman and Minh Nguyen: one an Anglo-Saxon from Albany, Georgia; the other a Vietnam refugee. Though they couldn’t be more different, both men are equally committed to enhancing the minds of their students, Swafford said.

As Swafford concluded his speech, he challenged his fellow graduates to continue that culture of caring wherever they may go in their lives. “As a graduating class, I know that whatever tomorrow brings, we stand ready to speak out, act, and, most importantly, to serve.”

After graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in globalization and international affairs, and securing a $5,000 fellowship for graduate studies from Phi Kappa Phi, Swafford will spend the next year as a Mitchell Scholar, studying at University College Dublin in Ireland, with plans to begin law school the following year. Swafford is the first Mitchell Scholar from any public university in Kentucky in the nearly 20-year history of the program.

He hopes to continue building on the life of service he has started at Eastern by becoming a human rights attorney who helps “revitalize international justice to fight the atrocities that shock our consciences.”

Swafford left his audience with one last call to action.

“Now it’s up to us to let our light – our brand – shine bright in society. As we depart the Campus Beautiful, bound by our knowledge, our passions, and our common values, let us go humbly forward – with strength, and with purpose.”

— by Yasmin White, Student Writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management