Koenig Tells Fellow Graduates to Dig for Roots

Published on May 25, 2021

The term superstar is sometimes a crown bestowed on a person who hasn’t actually earned it. Nicholas “Nick” Koenig, ’21, Louisville, has earned his designation. Koenig is truly one of Eastern Kentucky University’s superstar students. But humble, as always, Koenig was just glad to be speaking at an in-person graduation ceremony instead of a virtual one during the College of Science commencement ceremony May 8. “But now as I stand before you all today, I have never been more thankful to see a sea of faces, rather than a  Zoom screen of one or two brave souls with their videos on,” Koenig told his fellow graduates during the ceremony.

Koenig, the Spring 2021 commencement student speaker for the College of Science, has been awarded elite-level scholarships throughout his tenure as an Honors Student at EKU. He was named the 2020-2021 National Student of the Year by the National Collegiate Honors Council. He became the first EKU student ever to win a prestigious DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship. He was Eastern’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar finalist in 2020. He was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2019, one of only four Colonels to ever earn that distinction, and he will attend the University of Cambridge in England this fall to study for a Masters of Philosophy in Anthropocene Studies, among other honors.

To top it off, he was elected student vice president by his peers for his senior year. A superstar student, by any measure.  

He told his fellow students that a recent learning experience lead him to a philosophy that is useful to anyone as they traverse life after college: dig for roots. “Dig for roots. No more and no less,” he told his classmates. “This is the most parsimonious phrase that could be applied to our collective future that we will be building, investigating, revolutionizing, calculating, teaching, writing, amplifying, facilitating, undertaking, and questioning. To dig for roots.” 

As a botanist, the meaning is literal, but for anyone, the metaphor works. “Digging for the roots, as I mentioned in my speech, is really just a quest of being curious and inquisitive, something everyone is capable of doing,” Koenig said. 

Every Colonel has a unique story, Koenig said, and his metaphor continued. “Class of 2021, four women in Berea taught me to relish, and today we should relish. Celebrating this day does mark the end of many parts, but holistically continues our scientific quest to find the roots of equity and chemical equilibria, the roots of love and logarithmic growth curves, and the roots of justice and amount of joules,” Koenig said. “We should reflect and thank the people that have shaped us knowingly and unknowingly, to guide us into the place we are right now. In my root systems are my friends and family as well as a list of names that could fill a book.”

Koenig earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology (Botany Concentration), and earned minors in Chemistry, Geography, and Music, and earned certificates in Geographic Information Science and Applied Data Science. “I am so eager to go forward with everything EKU has equipped me with. It is an odd feeling being done with a degree as we, the graduating class, have always anticipated this one day, but we didn't anticipate the day after. The endless options we now have are super exciting but deeply terrifying!” Koenig said.