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Luis Orta, a graduating senior and student athlete from Caracas, Venezuela delivered the Fall 2012 commencement address

By Sarah Geegan

Luis Orta, a graduating senior and student athlete from Caracas, Venezuela delivered the Fall 2012 commencement address. Orta graduated with a dual degree in international studies and Hispanic studies, he came to the University of Kentucky in 2008, without a full scholarship but determined to earn one through his athletic performance. After selling his truck to purchase his plane ticket to America, Orta ran his way through the record books, breaking UK freshman records in three different events: the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the indoor 5,000-meter run and the indoor 3,000-meter run.  

His path to the record books was not always triumphant, however; Orta finished dead-last in his first SEC competition. After lots of hard work and perseverance, in 2012 Orta secured SEC championships in both the 3K and 5K races, all while maintaining a high GPA despite not being fluent in English when he arrived at UK. He was also named Southeastern Conference Indoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2012 and holds the Venezuelan national record for the mile.

"It was a lot of hard work, because running track and going to school is not easy," Orta said. "From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I'm going to class and then to practice, then to class again and to practice again, so it's pretty hard. But I love what I do, and I feel like if you love what you do, then it becomes easy. It's not work for me, it's my passion, and it's what I do every day."  

Orta delivered the student commencement speech to an audience that included his parents; this was their first time visiting him in America.

Below is Luis Orta's speech from the graduation ceremonies on 12.14.12:

Good evening. President Capilouto, board of trustees, faculty, parents, family and friends of the class of 2012. Congratulations on graduating, and thank you so much for giving me the honor to be here today. Before we begin, let's have a big round of applause for all of us graduating and for the people that helped us get here today.

Four years ago, I had the great fortune to come to this country and pursue my dreams.  My dream was to attend an American university, compete in college athletics at the highest level and graduate with honors.   Four years later, my dreams have all come true at the University of Kentucky.  I ‘ve had the pleasure of not only being a student, but also to be a part of the Track and Cross Country teams.  I can say without hesitation that these last four years have been the best four years of my life.  I have developed a great pride for this University and am proud to call myself a Kentucky Wildcat.

We are all very fortunate to be here today. This is a day we will remember for the rest of our lives.  It is a blessing for me because my parents are here today. They travelled all the way from Venezuela for the first time to see me graduate. I want to say Gracias Mama y Gracias Papa; I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for you. Or how we say here in Kentucky if it wasn’t for y’all.  I believe I'm speaking for everyone when I say thank you to our family and friends. Thank you very much.We've been through a lot as UK students. We all have walked to class in the rain, snow and ice. You know what I’m talking about.  Somehow every time I was late for class I managed to get a flat tire. We have all walked to Canes at night, just to find that it was closed. We all celebrated when our men's basketball team won the national championship in April. And I'm sure we were all on our best behavior that night.  

On a serious note, one day that I will never forget is when I competed for my first SEC championship. I ended up finishing dead last.  After the race was over, I was on my knees, breathless, sweaty, weak and speechless. I remember my head coach, Don Weber, patting me on the back and saying “Welcome to the SEC son – the best conference in America.”   He told me to keep my head up and to keep working hard.  He said that one day I was going to be a champion.

I never forgot those words.  From that day on, I decided to believe in what Coach Weber was telling me.  I committed to trust my coach’s favorite quote: “What matters in sports and life is not victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.” I decided that I wanted to be a champion, both in the classroom and on the track.

Even though we are all unique and have different backgrounds, we all have that "Coach Weber," that  figure that challenged us to be the best we can-- no matter what our passion is. We should be very thankful for them.

Three years and a lot of hard work later, my dream came true when I won the 2012 SEC championships in both the 3K and 5K races.  As I took the lead on the final lap, I could see the finish line ahead of me.  At that moment, I could see all my efforts and hard work paying off.  I made up my mind that I was not going to let it slip away from me. I ran harder that last lap than I had ever run before.   I saw it.  I went for it. And now I can proudly say that I am a double SEC Champion.

I’ve learned so much during these last four years.  I have learned that it doesn’t matter if people don’t believe in you. The only thing that matters is that you believe in yourself. That same coach who inspired me to become the athlete and student that I am today, originally did not want me to come to UK and run for him because I was too short.   Although he was just being honest with me, I was devastated.  However, I decided not to give up.  I vowed that I would do everything it took to come to America and live my dream.  I told Coach Weber that I would pay my own way for my first year and prove to him that I was worthy of a full scholarship. I sold my truck, borrowed some money from my parents and bought my plane ticket to America.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I broke three freshman records, and earned a 2.5 GPA my first semester despite not being able to speak English. Who’s short now, huh?

In closing, I hope we all realize how lucky we are.  As University of Kentucky graduates, we have everything it takes to be the very best at whatever we choose to do.  We received a great education during our time here so there really are no excuses not to give it our all.  I challenge every last one of you to continue working hard for your goals and dreams.  

Also, don’t ever forget who you are and where you came from.  Don’t be afraid to love each other.  Try to have a smile on your face and enjoy life as much as you can.  

And whatever it is that you do, enjoy the journey.  Don’t be afraid to dream.  Like I always say to my teammates before every race, “Just go and have some fun. Don’t be afraid to try the impossible.”   

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates from the University of Kentucky.  Let’s go make the Big Blue Nation and ourselves proud. Love y’all, peace out and GO CATS!!