May 13, 2021 | By: Danielle Donham
Lexington, Ky.

“I always wanted to complete what I started here at UK. I wanted to be a UK grad — no other school would do.”

Byron Mitchell always knew he would complete a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky, but he couldn’t have imagined doing it during a global pandemic.

This weekend, Mitchell will walk across the stage at Rupp Arena at Commencement — closing the final chapter on this journey that began 15 years ago. Although things will look a tad different, with most family members and loved ones cheering him on virtually due to social distancing requirements and safety policies, the moment will still be as special as he imagined.

Mitchell was born and spent his early years in New Orleans, where he developed a love for the New Orleans Saints football team. His middle and high school years were spent in Houston. When it came time to go to college in 2006, Mitchell chose UK because of a partial debate scholarship offer. He initially majored in psychology but left in 2011 just 19 credits shy of his degree.

Mitchell struck gold in the professional world, finding success in management. For the last nine years he has managed a small team at a midsized technology firm, traveling the world to countries including South Korea, India and the Philippines. Even the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow down his professional momentum; he acquired a real estate license in 2020.

Mitchell may have left campus for a few years, but he never left the community and the life he had begun to build here.

“This is where I began my journey into adulthood. This was the first campus and city I had ever loved. I never left Lexington, and secretly I knew I wouldn’t leave until the mission was completed.”

Although his timeline to graduation has shifted beyond his initial projection, his professional dreams and aspirations continue to center around the nonprofit sector. Having gained years of experience across his management roles, Mitchell felt a degree with leadership in the title would help to further enhance his career. He knew he would return one day, and his discovery of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Community and Leadership Development (CLD) program sealed the deal.

“My program builds on the idea that humans are stronger when they work together. Such a paradigm is aligned with my world view. The College of Agriculture and CLD program cared about me as a student and a person. They helped me get to the finish line. The University of Kentucky is a large school that feels small because of the warm people.” 

***

Byron Mitchell isn’t the same man he was 15 years ago when he first stepped foot on campus. Now, he’s married to Erin D. Mitchell, a kinesiology grad and former UK track and field hurdler.

Returning to school while working a full-time job and raising a family is not as complicated as one may imagine, according to Mitchell.

He manages his responsibilities day-to-day like clockwork. After his family goes to bed in the evening, he handles any reading and schoolwork from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., waking up the next morning to start the day all over again.

Throughout the two chapters of Byron Mitchell’s college journey, one of his biggest motivators has remained constant, his mother.

“She grew up in a two-bedroom mobile home with nine siblings. She would later go on to earn a master’s degree in education.”

Byron Mitchell’s wildest ambition now that he has crossed the proverbial finish line — the next generation. He says he would like all four of his kids to attend and graduate from college and to see their dreams become reality. In the near future, he’d like to start by taking his entire family on a vacation to India, once health and safety guidelines make it possible.

“It would expose them to a beautiful culture and people, while reminding them of the blessings and opportunities we have in our home country.”

Now, Mitchell is passing the torch to the next generation of Wildcats, many of whom are entering college at a strange transition in history between the pre- and post-pandemic world. As someone who started college in 2006 and is finishing his degree in 2021, he has some valuable lessons and perspective to share with current and future students. 

UK is an amazing place. Be sure to connect deeply with people. I have gotten to know my professors, and I was unafraid to tell them about my own life. This deeper connection always helped me during the undergraduate process. Those relationships will last a lifetime.”

Contact: 

Danielle Donham, danielle.donham@uky.edu, 859-562-2660

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