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Courtney Turner still remembers the first time she heard the word “college.” Her elementary school teacher, Ms. Sexton, asked if anyone was familiar with the word. Turner, a star student and self-proclaimed wordsmith, proudly stood and described the process of cutting and pasting inspirational phrases and pictures of her favorite celebrities from her mother’s magazines.

Laughing, her teacher explained to Turner that she was thinking of the word “collage.”

“The difference,” she said, “is the E.”

Many years later, that simple spelling lesson would take on new meaning for Turner, as she became a student at Eastern Kentucky University, sometimes known as “The Big E.”

In her student commencement address for the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences on May 13, Turner reflected on her teacher’s statement. She testified, that the difference truly is the E — that EKU is different from any other university.

 Turner went on to explain, “I think we are even more fortunate to have had the opportunity to establish the Power of that ‘E’ in many aspects of our college careers.”

“For example,” she began, “energy.”  She explained that every day, college students muster up enough energy to go to class, even after pulling an all-night study session, to push through one more paper, even if the sources are questionable at best. Even more importantly, college gives young people the energy to “argue our positions, deal with problematic scenarios, and ask questions, even when we are tired of talking.”

Then, there’s empathy. No two people at Eastern on the same. Turner, as she mentioned, came from a widowed-mother household in the middle of nowhere, the first of her family to attend college. In contrast, one of her best friends is from Austin, Texas, and thinks Richmond is the smallest town in the world. Despite their differences, they can still empathize with each other.

“We have struggled together, and we’ve celebrated together,” said Turner. “We have looked at our neighbor and said, ‘You know what, I’ve been there.’ Or, ‘You know what, I’ve never been where you are, but I am here if you need me.’”

This led to Turner’s third E: empowerment. From cheering on classmates at basketball games and seminar readings, to making each other endless stacks of flashcards, to talking somebody down from a pre-test panic attack, there is no doubt, she said, that EKU students have each other’s backs.        

“We have pushed and pulled and crawled our ways here – together, because we understand we are no better than our fellow student,” Turner said.

Turner also mentioned equality and endurance, but wants her fellow graduating classmates to focus on the E’s of the future.

“I hope you foster encouragement and gain experience,” she advised. “I hope you offer earnest work and find engagement in that work, and I hope your days are filled with exhilaration and excitement.

“Most importantly,” she stressed, “I hope you evolve.” Turner explained that college graduates often hear, “Have a good summer! Hope you never change.”        

Turner offered the opposite sentiment to her audience: “I hope you always change. Find things that scare you and face them head on. Make decisions you aren’t sure of. Take chances.”

Turner is already acting on her own advice, as the Greensburg native is looking to leave her small hometown behind to work for a non-profit organization in New York City. A creative writing major, she is also looking forward to traveling to gain inspiration for a series of short stories she is writing.

As Turner said her final farewell to the Big E that has shaped her life over the last four years, she reminded her audience, “My beautiful class, embody the power of E, every day. We owe it to ourselves.”

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