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April 11, 2013

First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at EKU commencement May 11

RICHMOND — First Lady Michelle Obama will join former University of Kentucky President Dr. Charles Wethington and Kentucky author Silas House as speakers at Eastern Kentucky University’s spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 11.

“We are honored and thrilled to have First Lady Michelle Obama coming to Eastern Kentucky University to address our May 11th evening commencement service,” said EKU President Doug Whitlock. “It is very gratifying to know that Eastern’s national reputation for supporting veterans and military families has been recognized by the White House. This is a remarkable affirmation of the efforts of our faculty and staff.”

“On a personal note,” he added. “I cannot imagine a finer way to help conclude my final commencement as EKU’s president than to welcome the First Lady to our campus and to make her an official EKU alumna.”

Three ceremonies, all in Alumni Coliseum, will recognize a total of 2,428 degree candidates.

The First Lady will address degree candidates from the colleges of education and business and technology at 7:30 p.m. (a change from the usual time) and will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters. The First Lady will be speaking at EKU as part of her Joining Forces initiative to assist military families. The university has received national recognition in recent years for its commitment to helping veterans further their education. EKU, home to more than 1,200 veterans and their dependents, earned a No. 1 national ranking in 2010 and 2012 from Military Times magazine in its annual “Best for Vets: Colleges” issues.

Because of limited seating and to ensure that graduates’ families are able to attend, the 7:30 p.m. ceremony will be restricted to those holding tickets. Graduating students, in addition to receiving one ticket each for personal use, will receive six additional tickets for use by family members; remaining tickets will be distributed by general lottery.

To pick up tickets, graduating students must appear in person at the EKU Athletic Ticket Office in Alumni Coliseum any weekday between April 22 and May 3, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Degree candidates must show a valid EKU ID, and the candidate’s name must be on the list of graduating students.

Those who wish to submit a request for general lottery tickets must complete a form at by no later than 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 3. The submissions will be selected at random, and individuals will be notified by the end of the business day on Monday, May 6 if their ticket request has been chosen. Availability of lottery tickets is limited to two tickets per entry and one entry per person.

All attendees that evening will be required to go through security screening similar to that encountered at airports. Doors for the 7:30 p.m. ceremony will open at 5:30 p.m.

The first ceremony, at 9 a.m., will recognize degree candidates in the colleges of health sciences and justice & safety. The second ceremony, at 1:30 p.m., will recognize degree candidates in the college of arts & sciences. The 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ceremonies are open to the public. All ceremonies will be streamed live, with a link on the EKU home page (

In addition to speaking at EKU’s commencement, the First Lady also will address graduates in ceremonies this spring at Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest historically black university; and she will be speaking at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School for Health Sciences and Engineering in Nashville.

MLK Magnet consistently ranks among the best public schools in the nation for its academic rigor and high graduation rate.

The First Lady is a Chicago Public Schools graduate who went on to earn degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She joined the University of Chicago in 1996 as Associate Dean of Student Services and developed the university’s first community service program. Later, during her tenure as vice president of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center, volunteerism skyrocketed.

In 2010, two years after the election of her husband, Barack Obama, as U.S. President, she launched Let’s Move, a nationwide collaborative effort to tackle the challenge of childhood obesity. The following year, she and Dr. Jill Biden (wife of Vice President Joe Biden) launched Joining Forces to raise awareness of the unique needs of American military families.     

Michelle and Barack Obama have two daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.

Wethington, president at UK from 1990 to 2001, will speak at the morning ceremony. The Casey County native headed the state’s community college system, then under the control of the UK, from 1981 to 1990. Wethington, who earned bachelor’s degrees in English and history from EKU in 1956, retired in 2012 after 47 years in higher education.

House, author, educator and environmental activist, will speak at the 1:30 ceremony. The Laurel County native, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from EKU in 1993, is the author of five critically acclaimed novels: “Clay’s Quilt,” “A Parchment of Leaves,” “The Coal Tattoo,” “Eli the Good,” and “Same Sun Here,” co-authored with Neela Vaswani, among other works. He currently serves as director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College.

Wethington will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree, House an honorary doctor of letters degree.

In all, 1,806 bachelor’s degree candidates will be recognized, plus 490 master’s degree candidates, 115 associate degree candidates, 10 specialist degree candidates and seven doctoral degree candidates.


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