Campus News

President Eli Capilouto message to December graduates: 'No expiration date on dreams'


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 16, 2022) — The 2022 University of Kentucky December Commencement Ceremonies were held on Dec. 16. The UK Board of Trustees approved the conferral of 2,037 degrees, including 1,415 undergraduate, 606 graduate and 16 professional degree candidates for December 2022.

UK President Eli Capilouto gave the following remarks:

'No expiration date on dreams'

Graduates of 2022, welcome and congratulations.

I stand before you today, immeasurably proud of what you have accomplished and what I know you will do in the future.

I also know that each of you brings to this place your own remarkable story ... one that is uniquely yours … one that speaks to challenges met and overcome … and all of which speak to your capacity and commitment, your tenacity and your talent.

One of the joys of my job is hearing and reading your stories and telling them to others.

They give me a deep sense of — and profound gratitude for — what is wildly possible.

Growing up in the small town of Thomson, Georgia, Savannah Lewis loved math and science. She was fascinated with electricity and astronomy.

But she often wondered where her interests could take her.

“How can I channel that passion into purpose,” Savannah asked.

Indeed, Savannah struggled because she didn’t see many people like herself, studying or working in fields such as science and engineering.

“Because there are hardly any Black engineers in society,” she said, “it’s more difficult for Black kids to see that as a possibility for themselves.”

But Savannah had two powerful role models who made her believe. When she was in middle school, her parents started taking classes again to earn their associate degrees.

“That really inspired me,” Savannah said, “because my parents didn’t put an expiration date on their dreams.”

Savannah is right.

There should never be an expiration date on dreams.

At the University of Kentucky, even when her first semesters were challenging, she persevered.

She doubled down on her work. She found a community of belonging with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers.

She earned a co-op position with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and was awarded the 2020 Outstanding Junior Award from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Today, she graduates with you. And she is one step closer to her lifelong goal of becoming an engineer. One day, she says, she will start a STEM program for students in her hometown.

Because there should never be an expiration date on someone's dreams.

How do we ensure, with all that life will throw at us (and believe me it will) that we remain fixed on our dreams and focused on what is possible?

I think you know the answer to that question because for the past few years, you — who have weathered and persevered through everything, from pandemics to protests — have become our teachers.

As much as we have taught you, I suspect there is even more that you have taught us.

So, let me offer back to you — as you prepare to cross this stage — a few things I believe you have taught us about the enduring importance of dreams.

Consider these thoughts a few gifts you have given us that we have been blessed to learn through your example:

First, take time to celebrate milestone moments, those markers of progress and accomplishment.

Today is such a day. You should take a moment to celebrate it (I’m sure many of you will) and reflect on what it means.

Graduating from this institution — your University of Kentucky — is an important achievement.

You have studied and worked hard. You’ve balanced so many things — your academic pursuits and jobs, your involvement in student organizations, the call of family and friends. You have persevered and succeeded.

Today, you become a college graduate. And our state — and our world — needs you: your commitment and compassion, your drive and determination to do big things.

But, today, take a moment … to live in the moment. Don’t let it pass without reflecting on what it means and what you, with the support of others, have done.

Second, while dreams should never expire, you have taught us in both trying and exciting ways that they may change shape and take you to different places than you first imagined.

Anne Stephens is one of our cooperative extension employees in Greenup County, in northeastern Kentucky.

At the age of 50, she decided to pursue a master’s degree at UK in arts administration through our online program. Now, armed with that degree, she is helping people in her home community thrive by what she and her program call: “making art happen.”

Her dreams didn’t expire, but she found a new path, later in life, and she used it to make others’ lives better.

That doesn’t mean that you give up on your dreams. But you should be open to the idea that they may take you in a different direction and on a new and exciting path.

Third, include yourself in others’ dreams. You have shown us how.

Ximena Oyarzun Gonzales is graduating today with her doctoral degree in public health — a significant accomplishment.

But Ximena, who is from Chile, had daunting obstacles that most of us can’t imagine. At UK, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. But her fellow students rallied behind her to keep her dream alive.

They raised money online. They conducted special events. Together, they funded the surgical treatment plan she needed.

After recovering from surgery in Chile, she returned to UK, picking up where she left off with the support of her professors.

Today, she is cancer-free, and she graduates with you.

Your fellow students created space — grounded in compassion and love — for someone else, so that her dreams would not expire.

As Mother Theresa, who gave her full devotion for decades and decades to impoverished children, reminded us: “not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Include yourself in others’ dreams and they will include you in theirs.  Do the small things with great love.

Finally, never lose a sense of awe or humility about the world you will enter.

Trust me, you will be bitterly disappointed at times. We all know that, and you have endured, in this time, perhaps more than most, shared disappointments and hurt.

People will let you down and, yes, you will do the same. We are imperfect people moving imperfectly through the world.

We’ve experienced those disappointments — moments of loss and lament, suffering and shock — together as a community this semester.

One of your fellow students had a promising life and career cut far too short by her death, innocently celebrating a holiday while studying abroad in South Korea.

Another student was the victim of a racist assault, on our campus, reminding us that for all our progress and aspirations, we still have so much to do to be a community where everyone belongs.

And you, as graduates of the University of Kentucky, have a profound responsibility to defeat bad and prejudiced ideas with better, more hopeful ones.

That undertaking ... to make the world a better place, to mend its brokenness where you can … is hard work.  And the vicissitudes of life will deal you grievous blows and throw at you seemingly insurmountable challenges.

We will all visit and spend our time near, what the Southern storyteller, Rick Bragg, and others refer to as the “river of melancholy.” We all find ourselves, from time to time, navigating its waters. The trick is to not live there.

We don’t know where life will take us or when its path will end. But we know too as fragile and finite as this existence is it also can be filled with wonder and beauty, moments of joy and discovery — all of which is best shared with others.

As the novelist Frederick Buechner wrote: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and the gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

I think Savannah Lewis understands that idea. I suspect Ximena Oyarzun Gonzales and Anne Stephens and all of our graduates assembled here today understand the preciousness of life and the importance of dreams.

I hope we have helped educate you and prepared you for your profession and a life of success.

But I hope, too, we have prepared you to “never dream too little dreams,” even as those dreams will change and, at times, force you to pivot, face disappointments and loss, no matter what path you choose.

In doing so, I hope we have prepared you for a life of meaning and purpose.

I know we hear concerns about the ‘learning loss’ associated with COVID. I would submit; however, you have added to our lessons learned … our knowledge and insight gained … our wisdom and sense of shared responsibility to each other increased … because you have been our teachers these past four years.

Our challenge is to continue to learn from your example. Your challenge is to continually and boldly chart your path forward that we all may follow.

After all, you are leaving this community today but know that this community will never leave you.

We know — and you have patiently and without reservation taught us — that dreams should never have an expiration date.

Graduates of 2022, keep pursuing what is wildly possible. Congratulations.