Lt. Gov. urges EKU grads to help build “a new Kentucky”

EKU entrance sign LOW-RES
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) –  Friday evening began with a rainbow that arced perfectly behind the commencement stage.  And it ended with a fireworks display in the night skies above Richmond.

In between, Eastern Kentucky University’s Spring 2015 graduating class was exhorted by Lt. Gov. “Crit” Luallen on Friday, May 15, to help build “a new Kentucky.”

Luallen, who has held a variety of elected and appointed positions in a career in public service spanning 41 years, came with a “special message” for those with roots in eastern Kentucky.

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“Eastern Kentucky, more than any region,” she said, “has a special spirit, a deep sense of pride in your culture and a strong sense of place. And that love of place will be the key to eastern Kentucky’s future.

“There is so much to be proud of and so many reasons to build a new future for the region that will provide opportunities for anyone who wants to stay to be able to,” said Luallen, who noted her own ancestors came through the Cumberland Gap and up the Wilderness Road. “Today we are working to build a new Kentucky for this new century so that you and your children will have opportunities to stay near your roots if that is your choice.”

Luallen said the Commonwealth is “moving in the right direction” in job creation, economic development, education and health care. “But that progress is clearly not reaching every corner of Kentucky, and we need your generation to be the leaders who will take us successfully into the future.

“Much of the past of eastern Kentucky was built on the hard work, the sweat, and the sacrifice of those who labored in coal mines so you could celebrate this milestone tonight,” Luallen continued. “And now you are armed with the tools to participate in the new economy, carrying with you that legacy of hard work and personal responsibility. There is a critical need for your leadership, in Kentucky and in this region. Your families have sacrificed for your accomplishments here tonight and we are now calling on you to give back to society, to help us build a better future. And if your future is not here, help to build a better future wherever your journey takes you.”

Stephanie Smith, Barbourville, who earned a master’s degree in public health, delivered the student commencement address. She urged her fellow graduates to approach life with an optimistic attitude of “Why not?”

Alexandria Ryan Sowers, of Lexington, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in history and comparative humanities, was presented the President’s Outstanding Senior Award for 2015.

This spring, Eastern recognized 2,068 candidates for bachelor’s degrees, 551 candidates for master’s degrees, 106 candidates for associate degrees, 22 candidates for specialist degrees and 17 candidates for doctoral degrees for a total of 2,764.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at You can also follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.