Commencement speaker, Kentucky State University graduate, and Kentucky Senate Democratic Floor Leader Sen. Gerald Neal (D, Louisville) tells graduates that “we can’t wait to see what you will do next.”

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Last Friday, I had the distinct honor of being the commencement speaker for the Kentucky State University Class of 2023 graduation ceremony. It was a vibrant and bustling occasion filled with joy, pride, and a profound sense of accomplishment for the graduates and all those in attendance.

This year’s graduating class was noticeably diverse, reflecting the broader trend of increasing representation in higher education. It was heartening to see that 67% of the graduates were African American and 59% were female. This highlights the advanced strides the university is taking towards inclusivity and opportunity, making education a universal right, not a privilege.

The ceremony was brimming with inspiration. Collier Higgs, an Owensboro native, business administration graduate, and baseball player, delivered a stirring valedictory address. He spoke candidly about his struggles, including his mother’s battle with breast cancer, and how these challenges motivated him to persist and succeed. His story was a powerful testament to the spirit of perseverance that seemed to be a common thread among the graduates.

The university honored 27 graduates from the summer of 2022, 72 from the fall of 2022, and 163 from the spring of 2023 semester. Degrees ranged from associates to doctorates, with the youngest graduate, Ruth Brown, being just 19 years old. There was a palpable sense of accomplishment and optimism as these graduates prepare for the next chapter in their lives.

The sentiment echoed throughout the ceremony was one of hope and anticipation for what the future holds for these young individuals. As I addressed the crowd, I was sure to emphasize the importance of their educational journey and the significance of their achievements. I also encouraged them to apply their acquired knowledge to serve their communities and impact the lives of others positively.

I expressed my eagerness to see how these graduates will shape the future. Education, after all, isn’t merely a means to an end, but a stepping stone to greater things. The commencement ceremony was a celebration of academic achievement and a launching pad for graduates beyond the university’s walls.

In closing, the Board of Regents Chair, Tammi Dukes, beautifully encapsulated the spirit of the day, saying, “Despite everything… you have made it.” The ceremony was a testament to the resilience, determination, and intellectual growth of each student. It was a proud moment to witness as a fellow alumnus, and I eagerly anticipate the many great things these graduates will undoubtedly achieve.