UK pauses to remember lost members of its ‘UK family’

Jacob Eads

They were our friends, our instructors, our mentors and our loved ones.

The UK community met Wednesday, as it does every year, to remember and write down the names of those in the “UK family” who have died before their time.

This annual ceremony that recognizes students, faculty, staff and alumni is often a hard one to swallow for those who are regular attendees. This is a harsh reality because the “distinct compassion and connection that permeates the UK family” makes saying goodbye to these people all the more difficult, Provost David Blackwell said. 

Student Body President Michael Hamilton echoed the same sentiment about his UK family.

“Every one of us who becomes a part of this community has joined something much bigger than ourselves, and so when tragedy falls upon our community it is felt deeply and personally by all of us– not just on this campus, but across the entire big blue nation. We are a family,” Hamilton said.

Among those recognized and remembered at today’s events were Taylor Nolan and Sean Culley, two UK students who died of suicide in January 2019.

“We lost two of our fellow students in tragedy that left us confused, hurting and looking for answers,” Hamilton said. “Even though we feel a sense of grief and sadness when a member of this family leaves too soon, we must honor and remember them not for their last day or the circumstances that surrounded it, but for the lifetime that came before it and the legacy they leave after.” 

Also recognized were the 454 UK alumni who died over the past year.

“Every single one of those alumni was someone’s parent, sibling, child, coworker, friend, and each one was one of the 250,000 individuals who called UK home. Each one was a member of our UK family,” said Cami Grant, of the UK Alumni Association. “Although they are no longer with us, each has left an indelible mark upon our lives, and upon the character of this university.”

Faculty and staff representatives who spoke at today’s event spoke about the pain of losing their coworkers and colleagues throughout the past year, but also about the legacies these people leave behind.

“The most difficult days I’ve spent at this university are the days when we lose a colleague. I’ve worked at UK for 15 years now and I’ve written far too many messages sharing the trying news of losing a colleague with our friends,” said David Melanson, staff representative to the UK Board of Trustees. “Today we honor those legacies of our friends, and I always choose to remember the good times– it’s a lot easier to do.”

Anthony Dotson serves as the Director of UK’s Veteran’s Resource Center. He has made a habit of attending this remembrance event every year. 

“Normally that’s because I have to add a student veteran’s name every year,” he said. “Veteran suicide is roughly 20 to 22 per day in this country, and we’re not immune to that on this campus.”

Dotson and others in attendance said they saw today’s ceremony as a way to stop and think about the countless others who traverse the same walkways alongside them each day at UK.

“I think it’s important to stop and recognize others outside ourselves… this is a time we can reflect on others,” Dotson said.

For the dozens who stood outside in the sunshine Wednesday afternoon, it was clear the spirit of the UK family will carry on in remembrance of all who were lost this past year.

“We must remain committed to living our lives to the fullest, because we are still here. College is a lot. We must take time out of our busy schedules to live and love the lives we are so blessed to have. We are still here, and we owe to those who are not to live and live fully,” Hamilton said.