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During her stint as a campus tour guide at Eastern Kentucky University, Jessa Hay heard one question from students and parents more often than any other: “Why come to EKU all the way from New Jersey?”

Hay took the opportunity to answer that question at length during her commencement address to the College of Science on May 12. While she cited the Honors Program, out-of-state affordability and her mom’s love of the campus as key factors in her decision, she found more to love once she moved into Burnam Hall in 2014: “EKU has so much to offer that cannot be expressed on a single tour.”

After its construction, Turner Gate on Lancaster Avenue became Hay’s favorite landmark to show prospective students. The words carved into the stone pillars on either side describe what she gained from her Colonel journey: as students enter campus, the gate reads ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge.’ As they exit on the other side, it reads ‘passion’ and ‘purpose.’ “Even though the Turner Gate has not been around for the entirety of my college career, those words have held true for me and for the past, present and future Colonels of EKU,” she said.

Part of “what sets EKU apart,” according to Hay, is the dedicated professors and advisers who bestowed their wisdom and knowledge on the graduates. “You never felt like you were just a face in the crowd,” she reflected. “Your professors knew who you were and really cared about your academic experience, as long as we showed them that we cared too.” She hailed Dr. Patrick Calie, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, as one such instructor.

The faculty were not the only bright spot of Hay’s time as a Colonel, however. The lifelong friends, student organizations, and abundant opportunities she discovered here were a different kind of learning experience. “This place, I think we can all agree, helped us discover our future, and I’m not just talking about our careers,” she said. “We learned about ourselves, which is some of the most important wisdom and knowledge that EKU has provided us.”

As Hay received her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry, she expounded on how she and her fellow graduates could move forward with the passion and purpose instilled in them at Eastern. “Show the power of maroon,” she urged, “by becoming a teacher, a scientist, a principal, a doctor, an interpreter, a pharmacist – the world is your oyster, and it is because of this place.”

After graduation, Hay plans to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling. But as she enters the “scary world of becoming a real adult,” she carries the people and lessons from EKU with her. As she reminded her fellow graduates, “Your friends don’t leave you. Your professors don’t leave you. But most importantly, your passion does not leave you.”

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