UK graciously toasts Bill Gatton at celebration of new student center


Bill Gatton talks with students after the celebration honoring him in the Student Center on Friday, August 31, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Jacob Eads

In a shower of balloons and streamers, UK has yet again toasted to its brand-new Bill Gatton Student Center.

On Friday, President Eli Capilouto and other university leaders rained down their praise on philanthropist and UK alumnus Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton, who kickstarted the construction of the student center with a $20 million contribution.

While Capilouto and the administration remained thankful for Gatton’s financial assistance during today’s celebration, they are most gracious for his commitment to the university’s mission.

That’s because Gatton embraces the university for what it is: a promise, said Capilouto.

“That’s what this building is about. To welcome everyone, regardless of their story, background or walk of life. That you belong at the University of Kentucky,” Capilouto said. “That’s what this space offers everyone. It’s sacred space.”

Returning from summer vacation, students have had weeks to revel in the newness of the playground that is the Gatton Student Center. While the mammoth building is usually full of scurrying feet and backpacks, today’s ode to Gatton brought even more out of the woodwork.

But every neck was craned when UK’s ensemble of choirs opened today’s party with a booming rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” that weaved its way through the hundreds in attendance.

“It always tugs my heartstrings when we hear the state song. I teared up a little. I’m not going to lie,” Student Government Association President Michael Hamilton said. “It put everything into perspective. This place is for Kentucky.”

Hamilton said the university’s new “living room” is at its best when it’s filled with students.

“When the building comes alive. It’s not a specific time or a specific event, but just when you walk in and everyone’s here just building community, being together and sharing that Wildcat experience,” Hamilton said.

Other students at the celebration shared the same admiration for Gatton’s donation to the university.

“I’m already in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, and now having the Gatton Student Center, both facilities blow me away,” said UK senior business major Destiny Oakley. “They’re honestly my home away from home.”

To christen the student center and welcome generations of future students to their new home, Capilouto and students toasted Gatton in a thundering of popping coke cans accompanied by the UK fight song.

“Your (Gatton’s) generosity has made it possible to build a bridge to a new future for generations to come, everyone calling the Bill Gatton Center their home,” said Capilouto.