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Madison Pearl Becknell: ‘A ray of sunshine’

Madison Pearl Becknell was known for her radiant personality, unwavering passion and deep faith that touched the lives of all who knew her.

After a car crash last week, the University of Kentucky community mourned the death of senior Madison Becknell at Baptist Christian Ministry during a candlelit vigil to honor her legacy.

Becknell, a graduate of Oldham County High School, had been excelling in her studies at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, according to Sarah Kercsmar, department chair and associate professor in the Clinical Leadership and Management program.

“She was a light. Every time she came into a room, she lit it up,” Kercsmar said. “She was often the one sitting in the front row, eagerly engaged and, you know, put her hand up and was ready to go.” 

Becknell majored in Clinical Leadership and Management (CLM) and had consistently made the Dean’s list, according to her obituary.

Kerscmar said that most recently Becknell had taken an interest in integrative medicine after finishing her senior practicum, an extension of classroom experience, at UK. 

“She found her love and her passion. She’ll definitely be missed,” Kercsmar said.

Becknell was set to graduate in May 2024, according to her classmate and friend Emmanuel Dhemby.

Dhemby, also a senior, met Becknell during their first year in the CLM program when they bonded over their shared love of music. He said their cohort within the major is small so everyone knows each other.

“We’re all really close, we’re like a small family, from faculty all the way to the students,” Dhemby said.

Dhemby said the last thing Becknell texted him about was her practicum in integrative medicine. They were having a conversation about how they liked their practicums and Becknell said, “My practicum is so fun, I’m really sad to be leaving soon.” 

The day after this text was sent, Feb. 28, 2024, Becknell died in a collision on La Grange Road in Shelby County.

Dhemby said he hadn’t opened the text yet. “I feel like once I open it, it’s over,” he said.

After mourning and getting past the initial shock, Dhemby said he wanted to find ways to honor her memory. He said there are plans to potentially create a scholarship in Becknell’s name to give to someone passionate about integrative medicine.

Programs for Madison Becknell rest on a table during a candlelit vigil on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at Baptist Campus Ministry in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff (Abbey Cutrer)

“She was always like a ray of sunshine, just always good energy. She had a really bright smile and her red hair was always striking, she was a lot of fun,” Dhemby said. 

Dhemby also shared that Becknell’s faith was a large proponent of her identity, saying that she was the “true embodiment of a Christian.”

Becknell was actively engaged in serving her community through her church, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, and later, Southland Christian Church in Lexington. 

Connections pastor at the Southeast LaGrange campus Eric Lutz met Becknell when she was a middle school student, mentoring her through high school and then when she was home from college as well.

Lutz said she was a Bible study small group leader and developed relationships with the younger girls that she mentored.

“I think the way that she impacted and loved and invested in other girls all came from the fact that she knew she was loved by Jesus,” Lutz said. 

Lutz said that Becknell’s favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 12:2 which reads, “Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust and will not be afraid. For the Lord God is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.”

Alpha Gamma Delta Epsilon Chapter President Emma Pence gives opening remarks mourning the death of her sorority sister Madison Becknell during a vigil on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at Baptist Campus Ministry in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff (Abbey Cutrer)

Her close friends who spoke at the vigil have hope and trust that they will see Becknell again one day. 

In the opening prayer, Rachel Grigg said, “I thank you, Lord, that she is experiencing joy much fuller than any of us could ever imagine.”

“I would give anything to have one more hug or share one more laugh with Madison, but I have no doubt that Madison’s light will shine on us all, forever,” said Alpha Gamma Delta (AGD) sorority member Caroline McKeown.

“This week has been extremely hard and I know it will always hurt, but I find comfort in knowing that she is in a better place with Jesus,” AGD member Gabrielle DiLemme said.

The news of her passing sent a shock through the UK community, prompting an outpouring of condolences and support for her loved ones on an Instagram post.

The AGD Epsilon chapter paid tribute to Becknell in that post, remembering her as “sunshine in human form.” The heartfelt messages from sorority members and friends reflect the impact Becknell had on those around her.

Becknell was deeply involved in her community, both at home and at UK. She was known for her warm heart and unwavering support for others, according to AGD Epsilon Chapter President Emma Pence. 

“Madison was the biggest encourager, making me feel comfortable and confident. She was a friend to everyone,” Pence said. “Madison was the epitome of selflessness, vibrancy, and sunshine. She was known for her ability to always make others around her feel loved, valued and known.”

Described by loved ones as “pure sunshine,” Becknell’s positivity and radiant smile left a lasting impression on all who knew her.

Becknell’s mother, Debra Becknell, shared a story about Madison.

“One thing she did that was always so funny that my husband is probably gonna miss; he has a photo screen on his desk and she can control what photos get added … she’ll wait until he’s at his desk and then she would change the picture to surprise him.”

Debra said that Madison would check her dad’s location so she knew the right moment to change the picture. 

“She made it fun no matter what. She was funny,” Debra said.

She said it was typically a photo of Madison and her friends.

Photos of Madison Becknell and her friends are displayed during her vigil on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at Baptist Campus Ministry in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff (Abbey Cutrer)

“It shows how much she was invested in other people. She wanted them to hear from her. She made sure we talked every day,” her mother said.

As the UK community grapples with this loss, Becknell’s memory will continue to live on in the hearts of all who knew her. 

Grigg described the first time she met Becknell. 

“The moment I introduced myself, my life changed forever. I had never experienced a soul connection like I did with Madison and her family, and I’m fully convinced that one of the reasons God put us on this earth was to be best friends,” Grigg said. 

With Becknell as her best friend, Grigg said she learned a few things in their 15 years of friendship.

“She taught me what it means to love like Jesus, find joy in the places you’d least expect it and live every day like there’s no tomorrow because one day there won’t be,” Grigg said. 

Amid sorrow, Becknell’s light will shine bright through the impact she made on this campus.

“When someone young dies, we say that they didn’t live a whole life, but Madison did,” Grigg said. “I wish I could have a lifetime of memories with Madison, but I now realize I did. Maybe not my lifetime’s worth, but hers.”

Becknell’s roommate, Samantha Kelly, gave a speech at the vigil sharing memories of their time living together.

“The memories we made will be forever cherished. She will never be forgotten,” Kelly said.

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Abbey Cutrer, Managing/Photo Editor

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