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The road to a degree winds differently for everyone. For Mariah Richardson, the path was paved with hard work and perseverance.

Self-supporting by age 18, she credits her upbringing by her grandparents for her work ethic. “My grandparents did not attend college,” said Richardson, “but they did work really hard for what they have and they taught me the meaning and value of hard work and paying it forward.”

The Liberty, Kentucky, native delivered the student commencement address for the College of Health Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University on Dec. 15.  Richardson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental health science.

Richardson entered EKU in Fall 2015, after transferring from the closing St. Catharine College. She began as a mechanical engineering major, but an introduction class for environmental health science and counsel from Dr. D.B. Barnett and Dr. Gary Brown changed her mind: “Once I took the Intro class, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

A co-op position at the Safety Department at Altec Industries in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, proved to be a defining opportunity of Richardson’s college career.  She praised the Department of Environmental Health Science and its “passion for success” for making it possible. “The practiced-based education at EKU combined with our field trips and classes are what make EKU a special place and make our degrees worth so much more,” she said.

During her time at EKU, Richardson also served the Environmental Health Science Club as chair of the Social Media and Networking Committee, a task that allowed her to meet new people and learn about the profession she loved. This club helped her adjust to the larger campus and became her second family. She also studied abroad in Jamaica, where she and her classmates volunteered to build a concrete solid waste container.

After her co-op experience, Richardson decided to further her education by gaining a master’s of occupational safety degree here at EKU. Eventually, she hopes to be a safety coordinator in a manufacturing plant.

Richardson praised the faculty and her fellow students, calling them best a student could want. She wished the students luck and offered one final piece of advice: “Remember who you are – please, remember who you are, whether in the workforce or at another institution. Remember you’re a product of Eastern Kentucky University and the EKU College of Health Sciences. You’re a product of hard work, you’re a product of determination, you are not afraid to face challenges, and you can be part of solving the world’s complex challenges.”

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