EKU Graduation Speaker, Gracy Kelley, Encourages Class of 2024 to Embrace “Firsts” in Life

Published on May 20, 2024

By Evan Bentley

At Eastern Kentucky University’s (EKU) spring commencement ceremony on May 10, Honors Scholar Gracy Kelley stood before her fellow graduates encouraging them to embrace the “firsts” in life. With the support of her friends, family and peers, she navigated challenges from COVID-19 to the complexities of student life.

"My firsts did not come without a cost. As both a first-generation student and adoptee, I once would have never dreamed of the opportunities offered to me while continuing my education in the city of Richmond," said Kelley, from Berea, Kentucky. “I grew up under the poverty line, adopted out of a home of drug abuse and violence—many children never receive the opportunities that have been granted to me. I, like many of you today, was scared for the future ahead.”

Kelley’s personal story served as a reminder of the transformative power of education and the opportunities it provides to those who persevere. She urged her peers to bravely confront challenges. "You will be scared, and nervous, and worried and terrified of the future. But, you have to be brave, and hopeful, and courageous and eager for the countless ‘firsts’ offered to you as you exit today."

EKU President David McFaddin, acknowledged the challenges faced by the class of 2024, saying, “This graduating class is truly exceptional. You have shown incredible perseverance. Despite uncertainties, you remained focused on achieving your college degree and continued forward, facing the unknown with determination.” 

Kelley also acknowledged the trials and tribulations the graduates have overcome, noting that the day itself marked a ‘first’ in experiencing a large-scale commencement.

“You have not only overcome the trials that accompany a degree, but doing so during the complete span of a global pandemic," said Kelley. "For many, today serves as not only the completion of your degree—a first for many—but the first time you get to celebrate your accomplishments within a space shared by your family, friends and peers."

Kelley then listed a few of the ‘firsts’ that she and her peers would soon experience. “Your firsts will come in the form of first students and first patients, first days and first losses. Many of you will go on to buy your first homes, raise your first child and create new memories.”

Kelley concluded with a message of encouragement as her peers embark on the next chapter of their lives.

“Joy is not reserved to your youth—take time to enjoy the simplest of ‘firsts.’ There are countless people to meet, adventures to be had and memories to make,” said Kelly. “You will be the class to change lives, in more ways than one.”

Kelley, an apparel design and merchandising major with a minor in public relations, played a pivotal role on campus as the co-visual editor for the Eastern Progress. This experience not only honed her skills but also ignited a passion for photography.

With a clear vision and determination, Kelley is set on pursuing her photography career, aiming to become a photographer for an NHL team.

At Spring 2024 commencement ceremonies, EKU recognized 2,217 graduates: 213 certificates, 47 associate degrees, 1,552 bachelor’s degrees, 377 master’s degrees, 14 post-master’s certificates and 14 doctoral degrees.

Discover the opportunities waiting for you at EKU by visiting eku.edu/admissions.