Student News

4 students selected to address UK May Commencement Ceremonies

UK's May 2023 Commencement student speakers: (from left) Kennedy Brown, Kate White, Matthew Wilson and Ashton West. Arden Barnes | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 4, 2023) — University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has selected four student representatives to speak at the UK May Commencement Ceremonies, taking place this Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6.

The student speakers are Kate White, Matthew Williams, Ashton West and Kennedy Brown.

Kate White

White, of Marysville, Ohio, will address the audience 9 a.m. Friday, May 5. She is graduating from the College of Social Work with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, including a certificate in child welfare.

“I am so joyful to be granted this opportunity to be selected as a student commencement speaker,” White said. “I hope that I am able to convey how much I have enjoyed my experience at UK, and how my fellow graduates and I can learn from our time here. Ultimately, I cannot wait to share this accomplishment with my UK community.”

During her time at UK, White completed more than 200 hours of in-field experience, which included conducting interviews with children to gather information relevant to child welfare investigations. Outside of the classroom, she was as a resident advisor, a library ambassador, a student philanthropy officer, a member of Xi Sigma and a tutor. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, White also served as a safety support student — helping to ensure proper mask and social distancing protocols were being followed on campus.

Matthew Williams

Williams, of Berea, Kentucky, will address the audience 2 p.m. Friday, May 5. A first-generation college student, he is graduating from the College of Engineering with a degree in chemical engineering.

"To be selected to represent the 2023 graduating class is truly an honor," Williams said. "The University of Kentucky has been the most effective vessel of personal growth I've ever gotten the chance to experience. As the first person in my family to attend college, I appreciate the resources which have helped me grow to who I am today. With my speech, I hope to share my story of growth, connect with my fellow graduates on the obstacles we've overcome, and celebrate as we forge our path to change the world, together."

During his time at UK, Williams conducted research in pharmaceutical engineering, which included preparing samples and running diagnostics for drug applications. He also served as a resident advisor, orientation leader and university tour guide. Williams represented the UK Visitor Center on the national stage at the 2022 CIVSA: SDI, where he presented on the importance of diversity and inclusion on campus tours.

Ashton West

West, of Harlan, Kentucky, will address the audience 6 p.m. Friday, May 5. A first-generation college student, she is graduating from the Gatton College of Business and Economics with a degree in business administration.

“The University of Kentucky means a lot to me,” West said. “As a young girl, UK was my dream school; now graduating from here is a dream come true. My speech reflects that by highlighting the ways the university has allowed me to get involved and grow as a person.”

West is a recipient of the UK Futures Scholarship, LEADS Scholarship and the William C. Parker Diversity Scholarship. She dedicated time and effort as a Gatton Ambassador, which included taking a lead role in helping recruit students to the college, meeting with distinguished guests and alumni, working with the administration, faculty and staff on policy issues and engaginh in various fundraising and charity events. West was also a member of the Gatton Women in Business Leaders Program and Gamma Phi Beta.

Kennedy Brown

Brown, of Chicago, Illinois, will address the audience 9 a.m. Saturday, May 6. She is graduating from the College of Health Sciences with a degree in human health sciences. She is also a student in the Lewis Honors College.

“Being selected as a commencement speaker is such a surreal feeling,” Brown said. “I feel honored to address the 2023 graduates and share my story with them in the hopes to offer inspiration. Being able to witness my dreams come into fruition makes me feel good knowing that all my hard work has finally paid off. The University of Kentucky will always be a unique part of my identity and I refer to it throughout my speech as ‘home.’ No matter where we end up in the world, my fellow graduates and I will always be Wildcats and will share that special connection for a lifetime.”

During her time at UK, Brown conducted research as a Chellgren Fellow and Markey STRONG Scholar. Her most recent research experience involved working with the BREATHE team at UK’s College of Nursing, focusing on tobacco/radon risk, as well as the process for lung cancer screening shared decision-making in primary care offices. She is the recipient of the William C. Parker Diversity Scholarship and the College of Health Sciences Academic Excellence Award, among other awards and honors. She is involved in the Black is Gold student organization and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Iota Sigma Chapter. In 2019, she was named Miss Black UK. Brown currently works as nursing care technician for UK Chandler Emergency Services.


The University of Kentucky May 2023 Commencement Ceremonies will take place at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday, May 5, and 9 a.m. Saturday, May 6, at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.

The UK Board of Trustees conferred 5,811 degrees for May 2023*, and more than 4,000 of those degree candidates are expected to take part in Friday and Saturday’s ceremonies.

* These numbers reflect degree candidates, not individual graduates (some graduates earn more than one degree, thereby being counted as a degree candidate multiple times). Degrees will be certified by the UK registrar, ensuring individuals have satisfactorily completed all requirements. The most up-to-date information is available through UK and Institutional Research, Analytics and Decision Support.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.