CPE President Dr. Aaron Thompson Receives Honorary Doctorate from EKU

Published on December 02, 2023

By Ethan Sirles

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) recognized Dr. Aaron Thompson for his distinguished service to humanity with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) degree at EKU’s fall commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

Thompson, ’78, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), is a nationally recognized leader in higher education, working to ensure that all Kentuckians have an equal opportunity to improve their lives through postsecondary education. 

“While it is easy for many to talk the talk, Aaron has walked the walk,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “No one understands the story of education, and more specifically about EKU as the School of Opportunity, better than Dr. Thompson. A first-generation college student from rural Clay County, Kentucky, he is the son of a coal miner and a mother whose education ended at the 8th-grade. Despite not having a road paved before him, he went on to become a first-generation high school and college graduate.” 

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology at EKU, Thompson went on to teach as a professor for 21 years at his alma mater. He also served EKU for four years as the associate vice president for academic affairs and was the interim president of Kentucky State University for one year. 

Thompson became the president of CPE in 2018 after serving as senior vice president for academic affairs for four years and executive vice president for five years. 

Thompson has authored and co-authored numerous books and peer-reviewed publications on diversity, cultural competence, retention, student success and more. In 2019, Thompson was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame. In addition to a bachelor’s degree from EKU, Thompson holds a master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of Kentucky.

During EKU’s 1:30 p.m. fall commencement ceremony, McFaddin presented Thompson with the honorary L.H.D. degree. 

“I've received many awards in my life and I'm proud of those—nothing makes me more proud than this. This is home,” said Thompson. “What EKU gave me was the opportunity to have lifelong learning. What EKU gave me was the ability to critically think, to critically evaluate and creatively output it once I got out in the big world, and that's what you have here. I'm proud to be a Kentuckian. I'm proud to be African American. I'm proud to be an Appalachian. All of those things that you are become all those value sets that you carry. And all those pieces put together create you.” 

Thompson encouraged graduates, “Learn how to tell your story. Your story may not be the exact same as everybody else, but people are wanting to hear your story because they are wanting to be inspired by you and that inspiration gives them the motivation to do exactly what you're doing and do much more than they ever thought they could do. ”

Framed with the honorary diploma, the citation reads, “A product of rural Kentucky who has devoted his life’s work to help the Commonwealth achieve prosperity through education while positively impacting the areas of diversity, leadership, and student success in higher education on a national and global level; an accomplished author, administrator, teacher, and a distinguished graduate of Eastern Kentucky University who is a source of pride for his Alma Mater.”