Graduates Told to Embrace Diversity

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“When we broaden our avenues for inclusiveness, we will automatically embrace opportunities for diverse students, especially those who are right here in our backyard,” Wright said. “We must open the doors wide to young, Hispanic people.”

-- George Carlton Wright,
Prairie View A&M University


Commencement Address by
George Carlton Wright

Photo of George Carlton Wright
George Carlton Wright

Commencement Comments by
Student Representative
Donald C. Storm II

Photo of Donald Clyde “D.C.” Storm II
Donald Clyde “D.C.” Storm II

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 8, 2004) -- University of Kentucky graduates were encouraged today to maintain the flexibility necessary to adapt to modern technologies, to tolerate and understand all religions, and to embrace “other people” in a diverse society.

Speaking to an audience of about 10,000 UK graduates, their family members and friends, faculty, and guests at UK’s 137th Commencement, George Carlton Wright, president of Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, said, “It is essential that you move beyond just tolerating other people’s religions to truly trying to understand them and to respect them and their differences with your religious faiths.”

Wright, a native of Lexington and a UK graduate who earned his doctorate in history in 1974 at Duke University, noted that the Lexington he grew up in was “a homogenous place in terms of both race and religion.” Generally, he added, “everyone was either white or black and for the most part, Protestant.”

“When we broaden our avenues for inclusiveness, we will automatically embrace opportunities for diverse students, especially those who are right here in our backyard,” Wright said. “We must open the doors wide to young, Hispanic people.”

He urged graduates – while remaining flexible – to maintain certain “old school” values such as “keeping your word or being a person of integrity, values that are as important as ever for maintaining an orderly society where people know what to expect and how to act based on truth.”

Wright was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at the UK Commencement Ceremony.

About 6,020 candidates for degrees – including three students who have been awarded $120,000 in National Science Foundation grants to pursue their graduate studies – were honored at the UK Commencement ceremony, which was held for the first time in Lexington’s Rupp Arena.

The ceremony was moved to Rupp from Memorial Coliseum on campus to provide additional parking and better accommodate the large number of persons who want to attend UK’s Commencements, said T. Lynn Williamson, chair of the Commencement Committee.

The number of graduates participating in the 2004 Commencement ceremony included 920 candidates for degrees who finished their academic degree work in the summer of 2003; 1,332 who finished their work in the fall of 2003; and 3,768 who completed their work this spring.

The UK students who received the NSF graduate fellowships are John H. “Jack” Challis of Erlanger, Ky.; Ryan Gabbard, Louisville; and Benjamin Garrett Morgan, Paducah.

Challis and Gabbard were both National Merit Scholars and accepted Singletary Scholarships to attend UK. Both resided in Boyd Hall, UK’s Honors Program residence hall, and they shared the leadership of UK’s mathematics club.

Challis was awarded a bachelor’s degree in physics and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the UK College of Arts and Sciences before attending graduate school at Yale University this fall. Gabbard received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. He will pursue his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Morgan received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He will pursue his master’s degree in engineering at the UK College of Engineering.

The graduating student speaker was Elizabethtown native Donald Clyde “D.C.” Storm II, who received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance.

In addition to Wright, honorary degrees were presented to John D. Baxter, professor of medicine, biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and James W. Stuckert, chairman and chief executive officer of J.J.B. Hilliard Lyons Inc.

Baxter, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UK in 1962, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree. A past president of the UK National Alumni Association, Stuckert, who received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from UK in 1960 and a master's degree in business administration in 1961, received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Three persons – a graduating male, a graduating female, and a member of the community – received Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallions at the ceremony. The Sullivan medallions are given to persons whose “characteristics of heart, mind and conduct evince a spirit of love and helpfulness to other men and women.”

The 2004 Sullivan Medallion winners are Amelia C. Brown of Lexington, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in family and consumer sciences; Albert Kalim of Lexington, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science; and Virginia Marsh Bell of Lexington, a graduate of the UK College of Social Work.

Bell completed a Master of Social Work at UK 35 years after earning a bachelor’s degree at Transylvania University and embarked on a new, 20-year career as a family counselor in UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. Melanie D. Otis, an assistant professor in the UK College of Social Work who nominated Bell for the Sullivan Medallion, said Bell “… exceeded even the highest expectations and brought new insights to her job – insights that spearheaded a whole new approach to meeting the needs of persons with Alzheimer’s disease.” Bell was recently inducted into the College of Social Work Hall of Fame.

Bell, now 81, developed a model program that has been used nationally and internationally in the care and support of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. She co-authored three books on the subject, most notably “The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care” (1996, Health Professions Press).

Brown, a student ambassador in the College of Agriculture School of Human Environmental Sciences, has been very active in public service programs while a student at UK. Among the projects she was involved in were Gift of Life, a challenge contest to create organ donor awareness; Stop the Violence, which makes school children aware of school violence and how to prevent it; Relay for Life, a national fund-raiser for cancer research; Service for Sight; and Jarrett’s Joy Cart, which collects toys for children hospitalized with cancer. She also served as a volunteer in the Ronald McDonald House, which houses those who have family members in Lexington hospitals.

Kalim, who served as president of the UK International Student Council, was very active in campus leadership, particularly as it related to assisting international students, including volunteering to assist with immigration paperwork. One of Kalim’s nominators, John Herbst, director of the UK Student Center, said, “He has expressed himself as a leader genuinely interested in people and their welfare, society and government, humanitarian ideals, and the individual’s needs.”

The William B. Sturgill Award for graduate research, which carries a $2,000 stipend, was presented to Richard Milich, professor and associate chair of psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, and administrative director of the UK Center for Drug Abuse Research Translation.

The Albert D. and Elizabeth H. Kirwan Memorial Prize, which carries a $5,000 stipend, was presented to Dibakar Bhattacharyya, the University Alumni Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering, UK College of Engineering.

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