April 5, 1999 | By: Haven Miller

When UK senior Kristy Burkhead was nine years old she gathered up her courage and gave a 4-H speech to five classmates at her grade school in Lancaster, KY.

Her audience is a little bigger now. Burkhead is the student speaker at the University of Kentucky's main commencement ceremony on May 8th at Memorial Coliseum. It's estimated that 8,000 people will attend.

"My mom can't believe this is happening, because when I was younger I was shy," said Burkhead, who is an agriculture education major in the UK College of Agriculture. She credits 4-H and FFA public speaking competitions with building her confidence.

"I started out years ago in 4-H speech competitions and demonstrations. I was nervous, but did pretty well and got second place in the state," said Burkhead. "Later, in high school, I started gaining confidence and competed in FFA speech contests. But I never dreamed something like this would happen."

Burkhead's selection as commencement speaker began with her seeing one of the dozens of signs posted around campus inviting students to enter the student speaker selection process.

"I didn't consider applying at first," she said, "but my adviser, Dr. Charles Byers, knew my background and urged me to give it a shot. So I filled out the application and sent it in with a resume and rough draft of my speech. Then I got a phone call telling me I was one of three finalists." Burkhead was then interviewed by members of UK's Commencement Committee who, as part of the process, also asked her to give her speech.

"We wanted good public speakers, but we also looked at more than just a student's speaking ability," said Dr. Constance Wood, chair of the Commencement Committee. "We looked at their grade point average, their academic credentials, their service to the university, and how well they will represent the graduating class of 1999."

After the three finalists were interviewed, their names were sent to University president Charles Wethington for the final decision.

"Kristy is an excellent choice," said Susan Skees, student affairs officer for the College of Agriculture. "She's been active in the Agricultural Education Society, Agricultural Student Council, Baptist Student Union, and CERES Fraternity for Women. Kristy has also served as a College of Agriculture Ambassador, and is a member of Gamma Sigma Delta, the honor society of agriculture."

Burkhead has organized her commencement speech around the theme of the popular song "We Are The World." She said the song expresses how she feels about the role today's college graduates will play in the future.

"As we go into the new millennium, we can no longer look to our moms and dads to solve all the problems," she said. "My generation is the one that's going to have to face the issues and challenges, and we're the ones who are going to have to start giving of ourselves to make a brighter day."

Burkhead is a student teacher at Scott County High School this semester. She credits her high school agriculture teacher for first getting her interested in agricultural education.

"My agriculture teacher at Garrard County High, Chuck Stallard, encouraged me to go into it," said Burkhead. "After I got to UK, I discovered there are a lot of exciting things going on in agriculture, and I decided I wanted to be a person that could influence young people like Mr. Stallard influenced me."

Burkhead, who speaks Japanese and is a sign language interpreter for the deaf, is the daughter of J. O. and Judy Burkhead of Lancaster, KY.

Contact: 

Writer: Haven Miller
(606) 257-3784