May 2021 UK Graduation Stories

The University of Kentucky's May 2021 Commencement Ceremonies take place May 14-16, at Rupp Arena. 

Videos (including unedited interview clips and b-roll) and photos of many of the featured graduates are available for media to download here:

Visit​ for more information about the ceremonies.  

Opportunity Chaser, UK Design Grad Pushes Through COVID Nightmare — Urban and environmental graduate student Montre'ale Jones, from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, has always chased opportunities — from leadership activities to prestigious academic programs. But this year, the soon-to-be graduate has had to rely on skills honed in campus experiences and support from his Wildcat family to push through a personal COVID nightmare during his last semester of class. Jones will graduate this weekend from the UK College of Design. Video/photos available here: 

CONTACT: Whitney Hale, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

‘It’s Deferred Gratification’ — Nontraditional Student Juggles Work, Kids and School to Finally Earn Bachelor’s Degree — Early mornings. Late nights. A full-time job, full class load, and two young sons at home all day throughout the pandemic — one with health issues that require frequent doctor visits and physical therapy. The road to earning her bachelor’s degree hasn’t been easy. But next week, UK College of Health Sciences undergrad Brooke Poe will finally see the fruits of her labor pay off as she officially earns her bachelor’s degree in clinical leadership and management from the College of Health Sciences while maintaining a 3.8 GPA.  Video/photos available here: 

CONTACT: Allison Perry, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Breaking Barriers — Hoda Shalash’s Story of Resilience — Growing up a Palestinian American-Muslim woman, Hoda Shalash very quickly learned the importance of community and the power that lies within it. In the fall of 2017, she joined the ranks of powerful women in her family to pursue a degree in the College of Social Work at UK. On Shalash’s pursuit of social justice, her mentors have become a valuable source of strength. Upon graduation, she plans to do what social workers do best — protect the vulnerable. “I truly believe that change begins at the micro level,” Shalash said. “While continuing on to pursue a master’s in social work, I would like to work within an inner city providing mental health resources and support to marginalized communities.” Video/photos available here:

CONTACT: Lindsey Piercy, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

UK Football’s Abadi-Fitzgerald Finds Community in the Big Blue Nation — Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald came to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was only 12 years old. He arrived in Lakeland, Florida, where he found his adoptive family, as well as a love for football. His athletic passions led him to UK where he found his other family — the Big Blue Nation. Abadi-Fitzgerald will graduate this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in human communication from the College of Communication and Information, and aspires to be a role model for his family in Nigeria. Video/photos available here:

CONTACT: Meg Mills, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

From Child’s Play to the Research Lab: UK Chemistry Grad Encourages ‘Young Scientists’ to Follow Their Dreams — Matthew Farmer, from Harlan, Kentucky, would often play outside as a child, exploring his surroundings and observing how things worked in nature. For him, it wasn’t enough to be told that something “just happens” — he had to know the mechanisms behind why it happened. His scientific curiosities ultimately led him to UK to pursue a degree in chemistry, which he will earn next week at UK's Commencement Ceremonies. During his time at UK, he found his footing through undergraduate research, and now encourages other chemistry majors and children who are interested in science to follow their own dreams. He will graduate from the UK College of Arts and Sciences. Video/photos available here:

CONTACT: Jenny Wells-Hosley, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

UK Grad and Father of Four Completes Degree 15 Years in the Making — Byron Mitchell first came to UK in 2006 but left just 19 credits shy of his degree. After more than a decade working in management, he returned to school while working full-time and raising four kids with his wife, primarily completing his degree while his family slept at night. Next weekend he is graduating with a degree in community and leadership development from the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

CONTACT: Danielle Donham, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amputee Embraces Unique Approach to Life — After suffering a severe football injury in high school, Sy Bridenbaugh contracted a bacterial infection that resulted in losing his leg, and almost his life. After making the decision to have his leg amputated, he also made a decision to direct his passion for football to education. He has spent the past 15 years at UK, earning a bachelor’s, master’s and now a doctoral degree, in educational policy studies, from the UK College of Education. As an amputee, he embraces the unique way he lives his life, and will address his fellow graduates as student speaker at two of the Commencement ceremonies on May 14.  Photos available here:

CONTACT: Jenny Wells-Hosley, __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Picture Perfect Graduation, 2 Decades After Start for UK Art Studio Graduate — After leaving UK early to meet life's challenges, Alethea Devary, of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, returned last spring to finish her degree with the help of Project Graduate, using the statewide initiative to finish her art studio degree and fulfill her dream to study photography. She will graduate from the College of Fine Arts.

CONTACT: Whitney Hale, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A 4th Generation Wildcat — Katie Winfree will be the fourth generation in her family to graduate from UK this spring. Her great grandparents began the tradition when they graduated 95 years ago. Her great grandfather, Len Tracy, played football and basketball at UK. Katie, who already holds degrees in teacher education and marketing, will graduate from UK with a degree in integrated strategic communication from the College of Communication and Information.

CONTACT: Meg Mills, ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Commencement Speaker with Spina Bifida Finds Support, Community at UK — Lauren Sammons, from Gurnee, Illinois, was born with spina bifida, a neural tube defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly. As a result, she has limited physical mobility and wears full-time leg braces. When she made the decision to come to UK, she was unsure of how she might find a home and community in a new state. “I quickly realized, though, that (UK) was my team. These were my friends. They were and would be my support over the next four years.” Next week, Sammons will serve as one of the student speakers at Commencement, addressing two ceremonies on Friday, May 14. She is graduating with a bachelor’s in clinical leadership and management.

CONTACT: Jenny Wells-Hosley,