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Campus Community,

As I looked out over a sea of blue in Rupp Arena this weekend, I was in awe of this special place.

More than 4,300 students crossed the stage to receive diplomas, signifying a personal achievement and prepared to live their lives. UK conferred more than 5,700 degrees overall (click here to watch an interview I conducted with some of our graduates). 

That diploma is our promise of passage — the next step in a journey that we hope holds success in a career or chosen pursuit, and, as always, a life of meaning and purpose.

We make that possible for a state and world that need people rooted not only in knowledge but also in discernment and a commitment to civic life.

We teach and guide. We demonstrate excellence in our pursuit of discovery and our commitment to healing. We are there when students have questions or doubts, or when they just need someone to listen and provide support.

Commencement was a remarkable moment in what has been, in so many ways, a remarkable year.

We began the year marking historic highs in retention and graduation rates, even as we have steadily grown enrollment over much of the last decade.

A 70 percent six-year graduation rate — and 87 percent first-to-second-year retention level — are numbers that tell a compelling story.

They speak to the work of thousands on our campus who see students not simply as a collective commitment, but as individuals with specific needs and individualized concerns.

Even as we recognized each student for who they are, we worked to support growing enrollment. A record-high of nearly 34,000 students underscores that Kentucky needs a larger workforce and a more skilled one if it is to seize economic opportunities coming to our state.

We don’t grow to fill lines on a balance sheet, just as we don’t build for ourselves. We grow for Kentucky, and we build for its future.

That need, too, is seen and experienced in a rapidly growing academic health system — UK HealthCare — treating record numbers of patients at our hospitals and clinics, many of them receiving advanced subspecialty care that only we provide.

Whether in partnerships forged through acquisitions such as King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland or St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead, or in committing to building out the capacity to ensure the provision of care closer to our people, we are extending the hope of healing to people closer to home.

A research enterprise that now generates nearly $500 million annually is our pledge that we will discover solutions to society’s biggest issues and challenges, particularly those that most impact our state.

And we are finding new ways to enliven what it means to be a land-grant institution in the 21st century, with service in every county of Kentucky that responds to moments of crisis and need and is a steadfast presence to bolster agriculture and the arts, economic development and health care.

Those are only a few examples, among so many too numerous to try to catalogue here, of what you do to advance our state through our missions of education, research, service and care.

And in recent months, we have responded again, answering the call of our Board of Trustees to find ways to accelerate our progress in advancing Kentucky.

We are making plans for how we continue to thoughtfully grow enrollment, while beginning to reimagine what our foundational courses will look like to prepare students for success.

We are asking new and existing partners how we can do more to meet the needs of employers and supporters, while also creating additional opportunities for students.

We are engaging in discussions across our campus to understand how our benefits can be optimized and customized to meet the needs of employees who span some five decades.

And, as so many of us know, we have sought — through deep dialogue with hundreds of colleagues — to understand how, and whether, our rules, regulations and governance structures position us to be responsive to our state’s needs and priorities.

We have come together again, through this process, to create a new roadmap for how we might accelerate our progress. There is still much to do. But, as always, I am renewed and emboldened by each of you and for all those we educate, heal and serve.

Thank you for all you do as members of this community, as keepers of a sacred and solemn promise to advance Kentucky. This has been a remarkable year in such a remarkable place. I hope you find time in the coming weeks and summer months for rest and renewal even as the work of this place, and among so many in this community, continues. I am excited about what the future holds.

Eli Capilouto