Student News

UK grad dons a cap — and tiara — as Kentucky Derby Princess this weekend


LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 2, 2024) — At the University of Kentucky, Laurel Riggs, from Bardstown, Kentucky, wears many hats. The pre-law senior and Lewis Honors College member is majoring in political science with a minor in writing, rhetoric and digital studies, while also serving as a coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Ambassador program, member of Chi Omega sorority, vice president of membership Standards for UK Panhellenic, and assistant attorney general for the Student Government Association.

Riggs is also the recipient of the competitive UK Lunsford Scholarship, offered to students with an interest in extracurricular education related to good citizenship and public service, and she currently works as a clerk at Hicks & Funfsinn, a local personal injury firm in Lexington.

This spring, Riggs has been wearing an additional “hat” — a tiara, actually — as one of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s five Derby Princesses. In this role, Riggs serves as an official ambassador for the Kentucky Derby Festival, the city of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and is attending more than 70 springtime festival events. This year has been especially busy for Riggs and the princesses, as the Kentucky Derby is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Just ahead of her graduation this Friday, UKNow caught up with Riggs on the road to Derby events to learn more about her time at UK, what being a Derby Princess is like and what comes after graduation.

UKNow: What made you want to be a Derby Princess?
Growing up in Bardstown, Kentucky, a city adjacent to Louisville, I have always seen the impact the Kentucky Derby Festival and the Derby Royal Court make on Kentucky’s economy, tourism and culture. I particularly grew up admiring the princesses' involvement and academic records, as the Derby Princess Program is not a pageant, but a scholarship program. As someone who has never dabbled in pageantry, I admired the princesses for their well-roundedness, and I applied to continue carrying on the legacy of high-achieving women being celebrated for all that they do for their communities, while simultaneously setting an example for future young women in Kentucky.

I also wanted to ensure that the flagship university in the Commonwealth (UK) had representation!

UKNow: How did it feel when you learned you had been named a Kentucky Derby Princess?
With over 100 women applying for this program and two rounds of interviews, being selected as one of five felt absolutely surreal. It undoubtedly boosted my confidence as a woman and leader here at UK and beyond. I also acknowledged very early on the great responsibility that came with this role. Knowing that every little girl was looking at your actions in every room you entered cannot be understated — impacting or empowering even one of them would be the greatest honor of my life.

UKNow: What types of events have you taken part in?
As a Kentucky Derby Festival Royal Court Princess, I get to attend more than 70 events between January and Derby day. The events can range from meetings with the governor in Frankfort, attending a robotics or academic tournament within elementary schools, walking in various spring fashion shows, to spending the day at the track! While it's hard to pick a favorite, overall my favorite experiences are the ones aimed at empowering or meeting with the kids of the Commonwealth. Last week, we got to be the first float in the Louisville Derby Parade, and got to greet thousands of Louisvillians, getting everyone excited to celebrate Derby 150.

UKNow: What is your favorite part of being a Derby Princess?
My favorite part of the Derby Princess program has been the hands-on time with the community. At every event I've been to I've been able to meet with and talk to changemakers, trailblazers and those that are making real difference in the Commonwealth. Getting to thank them for their large impact to the state I love very much is truly unforgettable. I have also loved getting to use this position as a platform to advocate for different organizations in the Commonwealth. For example, last week we got to speak to many statewide news outlets about Denim Day, which is dedicated to advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

UKNow: Why did you choose to come to UK?

Since I was young, UK’s political science department and the Rosenberg College of Law have always been the end goal due to their high achievement and history of setting students up for success. UK was the best fit for me because it facilitates taking a large campus and helping students find their individual homes/happy places. And I have loved UK so much that I'm going to be spending the next three years here as well!

UKNow: What got you interested in political science?

During the summer between sophomore and junior year, I was fortunate to work an internship with the Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney. Throughout that summer, I got to work with victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and I knew that I had found exactly what I was made to do. Political science was a great major to put me on a law track so that I can one day continue this work of advocating for and protecting women.

UKNow: How has your UK experience helped you prepare for your role as a Derby Princess?

Because the Derby Princess program is a scholarship program rather than a pageant, UK has prepared me with an exemplary academic record and history of involvement that has contributed to why I am a princess. Additionally, it was at UK that I learned the importance of making connections — from faculty to staff to students and many more — and it is that ability to connect with others that has allowed me to be so successful in my princess role as well.

Finally, while at UK, I have received a lot of assistance from scholarships to help me pursue my endeavors here, from financial assistance to live in Washington, D.C. last year, to other assistance while pursuing unpaid internships here in Lexington. All of these gracious, yes, have further allowed me to build my résumé, and be the first person in my family to attend school

UKNow: Tell us a little more about your post-graduation plans.

I will be attending the UK J. David Rosenberg College of Law beginning in the fall of 2024! I hope to be able to pursue a legal career either here in Lexington or in Washington D.C. post-graduation from law school and use law and/or politics to help continue advocate for women!


The 2024 May Commencement Ceremonies will take place Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4, at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. More information is available at

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.   

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