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Kasey Waddell remembers the moment she decided to become a Colonel:

“I’m sitting on the sidewalk listening to the marching band, amazed by the color guard, filled with pride from the ROTC and wonderstruck by the sheer mass of this institution. Some face paint and a long walk later, we are now in the stadium cheering on the Colonels for a victory over the Hilltoppers, a victory they most definitely achieved. The crowd is going nuts and I am instantly filled with a dream: my dream.”

Waddell recounted this Eastern Kentucky University homecoming game of her childhood when she addressed fellow graduates of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences on Dec. 15. 

While Waddell set her course early in life, the road to get there was not easy. “I walked into the University nervous and excited for what the future held.” said Waddell, “However, I was also walking into Eastern lost.”

She opened up about the trauma, depression, anxiety, deployments, knee surgery and deaths that burdened her young life. Luckily, Waddell’s time at EKU was a redemptive experience, and the University now holds a special place in her heart. She recounted the three most crucial lessons of her time here that the 'E' represents.

The first is home. Whenever asked, Waddell always struggled to name a hometown. As a military kid, she moved around for most of her life. “Never in my life did I expect to have that feeling of belongingness and home, but Eastern proved me wrong,” she shared. “I can now honestly say I’m home, which is special for a military kid.”

The second is empowerment. Despite her vulnerable state when she entered college, Waddell leaves as a more confident and emboldened young woman. “I learned that we are the creators of our own story,” she said. “We either let people take the reins, or we define how our biography goes.”

The college years of Waddell’s biography were bursting with activity. While earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a concentration in developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder and a minor in American Sign Language, she served as a resident assistant, various positions in residence hall governance, an EKU brand ambassador and a volunteer to children with Autism spectrum disorder through the EKU occupational therapy department. She was also a member of the academic fraternity Psi Chi and assisted professors with research projects.

Finally, Waddell learned that she, and everyone else, has a purpose. “We are not just people going through the motions of life, no,” she declared. “We are people accomplishing a mission and fulfilling an obligation to society.”

Waddell senses that her calling is to help kids with autism spectrum disorder. She hopes to go to graduate school and study to become a behavior analyst. She also plans to marry her fiancé, Brian Morrow, who will be commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant, start a family, and remain an active alumna of the school that has given her so much.

Waddell concluded by issuing her classmates a final dare: “I challenge you to walk away today asking yourself, ‘What can I do to make my mark?' No, 'What WILL I do to make my mark?’” 

— by Madison Harris, Student Writer, EKU Communications and Brand Management