Empowered by Community: EKU Graduate’s Journey from College to Career

Published on May 13, 2024

By Lexie Barth

Richmond, Kentucky native and now Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) graduate Jenna Riel shared the value of support, community and opportunities as she took the stage for spring commencement. “This sense of community and the network of support that EKU has granted us has been the foundation for our success,” she said. 

Riel expressed gratitude for EKU with fellow graduates at the university’s 2024 spring commencement ceremony on Friday, May 10, for the College of Justice, Safety, and Military Science and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Riel graduated as an EKU Honors Scholar with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. 

In his address to the graduating class, EKU President David McFaddin said, “You are the embodiment of the values and teachings of this institution. As you venture into the world, equipped with your talents and skills, you will undoubtedly make a difference in communities that await your impact.”

For Riel, EKU has been an integral part of her life journey, from the days of childhood swimming lessons at the Weaver Building pool to her initial employment as a lifeguard at the University Club of Arlington. However, her true revelation came as a student when she experienced firsthand the exceptional opportunities and vibrant community that define EKU’s educational experience.

“It quickly became clear to me that it wasn’t necessarily the buildings that I had grown up around and the brick and mortar that held them together that made our school so remarkable,” said Riel. “Instead, it’s the people inside that bring our campus to life and fill each and every space with laughter, friendship and memories.”

Riel emphasized how fortunate she was to have a strong community of fellow peers, professors and mentors over the years. Surrounded by future paramedics, firefighters, officers and first responders in the College of Justice, Safety, and Military Science, Riel found inspiration and purpose in her peers.

“These are the selfless individuals who you will one day call during an emergency, who will run directly into danger to protect their communities,” said Riel. “My peers are what motivated me to pursue a career in public service where I too can serve my community.”

Riel’s immediate plan is to go to law school, with a long-term goal of becoming a prosecutor.

EKU recognized more than 2,200 graduates from its six academic colleges during spring commencement ceremonies.