Better late than never: 2 former UK students come back to receive honorary degrees


Former Sen. Scott Miller and Thomas Givah talk of their days at UK before World War II on Sunday. Miller and Givah are receiving their undergraduate degrees during the commencement ceremony on May 8. Photo by Allie Garza

More than 60 years ago, Thomas Givhan traded in his UK football jersey for a set of Marine Corps. Dress Blues. Now, Givhan has earned one more uniform that he will proudly wear on May 8 as he crosses the stage at the UK commencement ceremony.

In the early 1940s, Thomas Givhan and Scott Miller ventured onto UK’s campus as undergraduate students. During the past 60 years, they have seen marriage, children, grandchildren, law degrees and political careers. But through all this, the two men found something missing: their bachelor’s degrees.

Following the plan

Givhan, an 84-year-old Lexington native, came to UK in 1944 to play football only to be drafted into the military after one semester. He left campus for Paris Island, Camp Legune, and was an expert rifleman in his time in service.

Miller, 83, was raised in Louisville, and went straight from his high school hallways to Great Lakes Navy Training Center. While he was there, Germany surrendered, and before the USS Badoeng could reach Japan, Japan surrendered as well.

With the war drawing to a close, the two men returned home and knew it was time to get an education.

“When I came back from the service I had a different mindset about things,” Givhan said. “I hadn’t been very studious, and I knew I wanted to do something.”

The two men rushed Sigma Chi at UK, where they developed their friendship.

The men immersed themselves in campus life. It was the norm for men to wear coats and ties to class, Miller said. Women wore corsages to football games, although the ratio of men to women on campus was quite the dating disadvantage.

“Back then there were six guys to every girl on campus,” Miller said. “One time I brought a girl back to the fraternity house on a date and went to hang up her coat. By the time I got back she had dates for the next six weeks.”

But amid the fun, the two men knew they had a plan to follow.

“There was a great rush to get to law school,” Miller said. “I knew the G.I. Bill would run out.”

After two years of undergraduate studies, the men were eligible to enroll in law school. Givhan stayed at UK, while Miller attended the University of Louisville. They both earned their law degrees without ever obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Won’t be outdone

The two men have acquired resumes speaking to their attitude about self-improvement. Miller served in the state Senate for 16 years. He teaches at the University of Louisville and sat on the Board of Trustees. Givhan was elected county attorney five times and served in the Kentucky General Assembly. Both men practiced law, raised families and served in public office, yet that allusive undergraduate degree still lingered in their minds.

A bit of family competition sparked the fire leading the men to contact UK about their degrees.

Givhan said between the two families, the children and grandchildren have accumulated 23 degrees, nine of which are advanced. Givhan said they did not want their family members to outdo them.

“I got a grandchild with three degrees, and here we are with only one,” Miller said.

Miller and Givhan received their Bachelor of Arts degree for arts law. But they did not have to take extra classes to earn them. They were able to draw on their past education to acquire credits.

“UK gave us credit for certain things. I studied in Europe, went to the Academy of International Law … We got credit for the military science we would have gotten had we not been in the service,” Miller said. “We had to go through an awful lot of briars to get there.”

But the scratches will be worth the degree, Miller said. He and Givhan plan to wear their caps and gowns at the commencement ceremony and don not plan on cutting corners simply because they are a little late.

“When I graduated from law school, I was too poor to afford a cap and gown. The G.I. Bill had run out the week before, and we just had our first child,” Miller said. “So I told my kids, ‘Listen, I sent you to school, and I want you to come (to my graduation) and bring me a present.’ ”

‘Finally part of UK’

While the men have lived comfortable lives, they recognize it all began with the G.I. Bill. It was this legislation that allowed them to attend college with relative ease.

“The G.I. Bill was the best thing to ever happen to me,” Miller said.

Because of that precious experience, Givhan said, he feels his generation has a different view of the importance of education.

“We have a very strong opinion about the value of education. The G.I. Bill allowed us to go to school with certain independence from our families,” he said. “If you talk about planting a seed and seeing a harvest in the fall … ”

It has been more than 60 years since Miller and Givhan began their academic journey, and they feel this degree will supply what was missing before.

“It makes me feel more complete,” Givhan said.

Though they did not earn the credits in a traditional manner, Givhan sees no reason their life experience should not translate into a degree. Having that degree represents what he has learned in life and lets others know he earned an education.

“Rupp said if winning doesn’t count and it’s how you play the game, then why keep score?” Givhan said. “If you are interested in education, you measure it in degrees.”

A simple piece of paper filled the void left after half a century, and Miller said the degree is more than just recognition of an accomplishment. It is acceptance into a distinct community.

“We are finally part of UK,” he said. “I always wanted to be part of UK.”