President Gary Ransdell encouraged and thanked the last Western Kentucky University graduating class he’ll preside over.

“Today is very personal for me as I’m sure it is for many of you with which I’ve had the opportunity to share this campus for a few of the last twenty years,” Ransdell said to the crowd gathered in E.A Diddle Arena during commencement for the Gordon Ford College of Business and the College of Health and Human Services.

According to Ransdell, one of the aspects of his 20-year presidency that he’s proudest of is the number of students that have completed their education at WKU in that time.

“The number of degrees awarded in my time as your president, as of today, I will have been privileged to graduate and shake hands with some 55,000 graduates who earned some 66,559 degrees,” he said. “That’s 44 percent of the 150,600 degrees ever awarded at WKU.”

Ransdell also expressed a passion for WKU that would never die.

“My passions for WKU are not transferable to any other institution and never will be,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one university and I’ve been driven to make WKU better, stronger and of higher value to each and every one of you.”

He also said he hoped the graduates would remain as passionate about the university as him.

“And as my passions for WKU are forever, I hope yours will be too,” he said. “Don’t ever, don’t ever lose the WKU spirit and always, always exude passion and dedication and loyalty to whatever is important in your life.”

Ransdell said he was confident the graduating students had learned the same instincts he did when he was a student at WKU.

“I hope you have learned, as I did, to compete, to fight for what’s right and true and to be bold and to be tolerant,” he said. “Make WKU proud. Make your family proud and more importantly, make yourself proud of what you are, what you’ve become and what you do.”

The part of being WKU’s president that has meant the most to him is the high-fives and hugs and requests for selfies from students, Ransdell said.

To watch you grow, learn, laugh and thrive here has been special, so thank you,” he said. “Thank you for the meaning you have brought to my life, to my career and to my family.”

“I’ve loved being a part of your life and I’m so thankful that you’ve been a part of mine. Thank you for the most amazing 20 years at the most amazing university in America.”

According to WKU’s website, 2,605 students received degrees this semester.

Tiphanie Jenkins from Louisville, who earned a Bachelor of Science in health care administration, said she’s happy the stressful journey through college is over.

“I’m really glad it’s over. It wasn’t awful but I wouldn’t do it again,” she said. “I’m so tired of losing sleep studying and dreading exams and waiting for grades to post.”

Soon, she’ll be taking an internship at Trilogy Health Services LLC. in Louisville, which she hopes will lead to a full-time job, Jenkins said.

Mason Kirby, a Bowling Green student who received a Bachelor of Science in interior design after five years at WKU while working full time, said the road ahead is “terrifying and exciting at the same time.”

His mother, Paula, said Mason is the first of her children to graduate from college.

“It’s exciting but it’s also heartbreaking because he’s all grown up,” she said.

Mason is interested in designing medical facilities like hospitals and assisted living centers, which Paula doesn’t find surprising due to a habit he had growing up of drawing house plans.

“When he was doodling, he’d always be drawing house plans,” she said.

While Mason doesn’t have a job lined up, he said he’s “more than prepared” to enter the job market.

“I’ve just been career-driven for a long time so I’ve just done everything in my power to prepare,” he said.

– Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

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