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She grew up in a law enforcement family and with a “vague idea” of one day following in her familial footsteps.

“It seemed like the way things were meant to be,” Taylor Edwards said. “I knew a degree from Eastern Kentucky University,” with its international reputation in justice and safety fields, “could take me anywhere I wanted to go, so I explored my options.”

She knew EKU well enough, having graduated from Madison Southern in 2015. She never expected, though, that a chance conversation on a college visit would cement her plans. “I spoke with a student from the Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation program who turned my day around and subsequently set me on a journey I wasn’t quite prepared for.”

That educational journey culminated the morning of May 10, when, minutes before receiving her bachelor’s degree, Edwards delivered the student commencement remarks for EKU’s renowned College of Justice and Safety.

Edwards has a family lineage of working in life-saving jobs. Sitting in a hospital waiting room working on her commencement speech and studying for finals while her grandfather underwent surgery, her thoughts turned to the week of her first college midterms, when she experienced the loss of a different grandparent. “As a former firefighter, he was so proud of the journey I was on. The last time I saw him was my high school graduation, when I walked across this very stage. That year, a lot changed for me.”

Edwards acknowledged she hadn’t always been a model student at Eastern. “I couldn’t even pass chemistry the first time I took it, or the second, but I never felt so down that I couldn’t get back up. I got a tutor and studied harder. The team that I surrounded myself with never let me abandon my plan. Sometimes, you fail a task, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed your mission.”

She tried singing in an EKU choir a couple of years and performing with a local acting school. As her course load began to “get the best” of her, it was decision time. She ultimately chose her passion for fire safety over her hobby of singing and acting, and her outlook changed as she got more involved with the program and made new friends.

“When I used to think of college, I thought of large lecture halls, where the teachers didn’t know your name,” Edwards said. “Yeah, that happens sometimes, but I never imagined how much hands-on training and tailored experience I would get. I sure never imagined blowing up cars or traveling the world.” (In the summer of 2016, thanks to a First Colonel Study Abroad Scholarship, she joined a cultural immersion trip to Quito, Ecuador).

College of Justice and Safety graduates serve in professions vital to the quality of life, often in life-and-death situations, across Kentucky and beyond.

“No matter your degree,” she said, “each of you will protect and serve humanity. Dream big, take action and be heroes.”

Looking back at her own college years, Edwards counts EKU faculty among her heroes.

“The relationships I have built with faculty are long-lasting,” she said. “Each of you who have been a part of our journey have made an impression so large that it can never be filled. You have guided us and helped mold the heroes we are to become. I truly believe each of you care about us. It shows in everything you do, even when we have a hard time seeing it.”

Mission accomplished – for the faculty and for their star student.