The university’s latest graduating class walked across the commencement stage in May and without saying a word, the graduates left a lasting message. Decorated graduation caps showed off the creative spirit of some of the more than 3,200 newest alumni.

Some chose to honor family members or beloved pets; some quoted their favorite song lyrics or TV show. Some just wanted to look pretty. Caps were sassy, silly, sweet and sincere.

But what exactly did our graduates want their last word on college to be? And how did they decide on the decoration? Here’s what a few had to say:

Julie Mattingly Gadd, organizational leadership and learning:
“My 21-year-old daughter, who is graduating in December, decorated my hat. I started at UofL a very long time ago and I have gone back to UofL on and off for 30 years. After 30 years, I’m finally graduating.”

Michelle Blevins, elementary education:
“All the little fish on there are from the kids I student taught with. They all colored and signed them for me.”

Michael Jester, communication:
“My hat was a nod to my fellow older graduates, so they’d feel seen in the lineup and during the ceremony.”

Charles Smiley, social work:
“It represents what it means to be an African-American male going through hardships. I chose the background to show that it can be hard going through and coming out of that jungle. And the quote symbolizes my college career.”

Jasmine Bridges, nursing:
“My mom passed away when I was three; she had been a nurse for six months. I always looked up to her and now I’ve made it all this way. So the ’98 is her and the ’19 is me.”

Jonathan Yann, applied geography:
“I love my cat, Zoey. She was always there for me for my really long nights of studying. She helped keep me company.”

Emma Crump and Josh Tierney, music:
“It was between Harry Potter and Hamilton, and we went with Harry Potter. And it was good because we all bonded over Harry Potter our freshman year.”

Brynnan Underhill, accountancy:
“I’m graduating a year early and I’ve been taking 18 credits every semester since I’ve been here. I’m a finance major so I have worked my assets.”

Sherea Malone, communication:
“I like artistic things, so I wanted it to look good. And I wanted my daughters Aaliyah and Ava on there because they motivated me to finish my degree.”

Heather Griffith, biology:
“It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. Then I remembered I used to say I wanted to be a nature teacher just like Steve the Crocodile Hunter. I was in kindergarten when I wrote this.”

Brooke Sanders, psychology:
“I was trying to think of something quirky and I thought, I’m going to be a speech pathologist so I’m actually going to teach kids to talk back.”


Erica Walsh
Erica Walsh is the senior marketing manager in the Office of Communications and Marketing where she manages the UofL Magazine and the President’s Report and contributes to the university’s branding and advertising efforts. Walsh joined UofL in 2014 after previously serving as the public relations specialist at Indiana University Southeast for seven years. Prior to her career in higher education communications, she was a reporter at The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown, Ky.