Alumni honored at First Amendment Celebration


First Amendment Celebration at William T. Young Library.

Madison Dyment

UK’s 12th annual First Amendment Celebration was held Thursday night. This was the first time that distinguished alumni of the School of Journalism and Media were honored as part of the event.

There were many different speakers, but all were passionate about protecting the First Amendment and journalists during a time of national distrust of the media.

The night began with Dr. Mike Farrell, a professor and interim head of the journalism school, delivering an opening statement emphasizing the importance of the First Amendment during recent times, and the essentiality of preserving it.

“It’s freedom for you and freedom for me, even if we may disagree,” Farrell said.

The assembly of students, honorees, friends and family were then treated to the Dean of the College of Communication and Information, Dan O’Hair. He spoke of his life changing experience with a freedom of speech class in college, and his respect for the journalism and media program for their efforts to expose students to important issues.

The evening continued with the presentation of the James Madison Award for Service to the First Amendment. The recipient was Deborah Yetter, an accomplished Louisville Courier-Journal repoter. Yetter’s contributions uncovered the failure of the state of Kentucky to protect some of the vulnerable children under its care.

“Don’t ever take no for an answer,” Yetter said to the audience. “Always make them give you a reason.”

Many of the youth were attending for a reason. Randolf Hollingsworth, Assistant Provost for the UK Center for Academic Excellence, introduced student winners for the Constitution Day Essay Contest. Six students, all undergrads and Kentucky-natives, were honored. Freshman Ryann Schoenbaechler’s essay won the contest. Her essay argued that President Donald Trump’s actions were harming the First Amendment and democracy in America.

Accomplished UK alumni were presented with Distinguished Alumnus Awards. Among this eminent group were Lee B. Becker (1969), Dana Canedy (1988), Dr. Nancy L. Green (1964), W. James Host (1961), Tom Leach (1983), W. Lawrence Patrick (1972), John Voskuhl (1986) and the late Carl L. West (1966).

All these individuals have held highly distinguished careers, whether as journalists, authors, professors, teachers, businessmen or sportscasters.

Judith G. Clabes closed with the State of the First Amendment Address. A former James Madison award winner and UK Distinguished Alumni inductee, Clabes noted her delight at being asked to speak on the subject.

“Is the First Amendment under assault, of course, and ever shall it be,” Clabes said. “Journalists and basic institutions are being undermined, with all of them being pounded in 140 characters.”

Clabes stressed the importance of the First Amendment, but emphasized that it is “just a bunch of words” without the support and passion of the American people to protect it. She insisted that it is the responsibility of journalists to preserve America and bring it back to high ground.

She offered the mantra “Make America THINK Again”, and then donned a hat with the same inscription.

Clabes’s powerful speech held optimism as well.

“We have to believe as citizens that public reason will prevail in the end,” Clabes said.