The inaugural commencement ceremony for the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky not only celebrated a year of accomplishment but looked toward the infinite possibilities ahead for the program’s graduates.

Fifty-four students representing 35 counties from across the Commonwealth were honored during Saturday’s ceremony at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center Amphitheater on the campus of Western Kentucky University.

Forty-four of the graduates (81 percent) plan to attend Kentucky higher education institutions with 24 continuing their studies at WKU.

Jim Wiseman, vice president of public affairs for Toyota Motor Manufacturing of North America, delivered the commencement address and encouraged the graduates to respect others, challenge themselves, broaden themselves and enjoy life.

WKU President Gary Ransdell thanked members of the General Assembly, WKU faculty members, parents and students for making the Gatton Academy a reality for Kentucky students.

“You are part of history for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Dr. Ransdell told the Academy’s first graduates. “You are part of something special.”

Alyssa Mavi, a graduating senior from Ashland, shared with the audience the new experiences the Gatton Academy provided the senior class. “Never before have I, or my fellow students in the Class of 2008, been confronted with so many amazing opportunities,” Mavi said. “Never before have I truly felt excited to learn in and out of the classroom. Never before have I been surrounded and had the chance to live and work with so many talented young people.”

Since August, Gatton Academy students have taken classes in mathematics, science and other subjects at WKU in fulfillment of high school requirements and the Gatton Academy curriculum. In additional to university study, 56 percent of students participated in a facilitated research project with university faculty members.
Twenty-five members of the senior class are Kentucky Governor’s Scholars. Six members of the class were selected as National Merit finalists with one named a scholarship winner. In all, seniors completed a total of 1,649 hours of community service.

“Today is the culmination of a year of experiences that have set the pace and established the traditions for the Gatton Academy,” said Dr. Julia Roberts, executive director of the Academy.

Academy director Tim Gott noted his pride over the accomplishments of the graduating class. “I could not be more proud of this inaugural class,” Gott said. “These students took a leap of faith to be trailblazers in this new educational initiative in the state. Though they had to give up many good things from their home schools to participate in the Academy, they maximized this opportunity and created an amazing community of learners. The ripple effect of their phenomenal efforts will be felt for years to come.”

In the fall of 2008, representatives from the graduating class will attend 15 schools across the United States: WKU, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Centre College, Northern Kentucky University, The College of William and Mary, The Culinary Institute of America, Davidson College, Florida Institute of Technology, Kenyon College, University of Miami, The Mississippi University for Women, New York University, Vanderbilt University and Virginia Tech University.

Four-year scholarships totaling $6.8 million were offered to the graduating class while $2.6 million in four-year scholarships were accepted.

“Kentucky is the 14th state to establish a residential school with a focus on mathematics and science supported by the state,” Dr. Roberts said. “This inaugural graduating class from the Gatton Academy symbolizes a giant step toward addressing the need to develop top talent in mathematics and science.”

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