Former Marine, Opera Stars among UK's Class of 2013

May 3, 2013

LEXINGTON,KY-- This Sunday marks commencement at the University of Kentucky.

Students and their families will fill Rupp Arena to see off the Class of 2013. Among those donning their cap and gown this weekend are a former marine, a combination opera star and student teacher, and other notable individuals. 

From the Corps to the Classroom

First up is Nathan Estes.  An English Education Major from Lexington, Estes came to UK in the summer of 2010 after a seven-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.  After tours of duty which ranged from Japan to Iraq, the 33-year old veteran says the transition from marine to student life wasn’t easy. 

“It’s been interesting kind of being back in what I consider a mainstream student population, and around kids that are 12-13 years younger than I am.”

Estes admits, however, that working abroad has increased his cultural sensitivity, which has helped him avoid bias and stereotyping others.  He channels this experience into his greatest passion, teaching. 

“I’ve always had a passion for helping others, which is sort of what led me into the Marine Corps in the first place, and you know just kind of being able to have a positive impact on other people in the community and help.  What I like to say is to keep kids walking down the graduation aisle instead of walking out the door back onto the street.”

Estes is graduating Summa Cum Laude and plans on earning a Master’s in Special Education from Georgetown College.  He will also work in the Cincinnati region as part of Teach for America. 

Teaching with Beethoven and Bach

Reggie Smith is a music performance and choral education major.  Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Smith studied under Dr. Everett McCorvey after earning an Alltech Vocal Scholarship in 2007.  He just finished working as a student teacher in Germany, a  choice he says was made for the country’s strong musical connections. 

“When we talk about Beethoven in music class, you say oh where was Beethoven born?  And I’ll say Bonn.  You think, yes of course.  Well Bonn is about 30 minutes away from Cologne.  Literally I can get on the train and go to Beethoven’s house and see his piano and be in the room where he wrote so many wonderful pieces.” 

During his time at UK, Reggie performed in productions such as The Magic Flute, Die Fledermaus, and The River of Time.  His advice to new students is to find something they are passionate about and stick with it. 

“Go out and try something new and always try to expand your knowledge and yourself, and become more than you even think you can be, and I think you’ll have the most rewarding experience, no matter where you are in school, and most certainly through life.” 

UK Opera Star Comes Back for More

Another notable musical scholar is Catherine Nardolillo.  A graduate student from Maysville, Kentucky,   she first earned her Bachelor’s degree from UK in 1996.  After about 10 years pursuing a singing career in New York, she returned to campus to pursue a doctorate in music.    Nardolillo says that she is not the first in her family to take this path. 

“My great grandfather graduated with a degree from UK.  My grandfather, my grandmother on my paternal side, and my father and mother met at UK.  And then I’m one of four kids and all of my brothers have at least one degree from UK.”

During her undergraduate years, Nardolillo studied under professors Everett McCorvey and Noemi Lugo when UK’s opera program was in its infancy.  She says they gave her solid preparation for working both as a singer and teacher.  Nardolillo says that her doctorate will allow her to combine both of these elements.   

“It’s perfect for me because I love both aspects of my singing.  I love sharing it with others and I also love getting to perform.  So having both those opportunities at the same time is great.” 

Nardolillo is currently a part-time faculty member at Centre College and does auditions for regional opera companies.  She is also the proud mother of Hadley, a 20-month old girl.  

First Scholars Recipient  Acts as Model for Program

Every year’s graduating class includes students who are the first in their families to attend college.  One such individual is Anthony Cadle, an economics major hailing from Dayton, Kentucky.  He was chosen to be part of the First Scholars Program, run by the Texas-based Suder Foundation.  They provided Cadle with a $20,000 scholarship and helped him adapt to life in college.  Cadle admits that while the program helped him greatly, their best advice was also the simplest. 

“The biggest information they gave me was ask questions.  Most first generation students tend to be shy and tend to be intimidated by the college setting.  They don’t ask questions and they fall behind.”

UK was the pilot school for the First Scholars program and in four short years, students like Anthony have turned it into a model for the program’s national efforts.  Along with his family, Cadle praises the program as a vital support network.  

“You know, it’s exciting, it’s nerve racking, it’s all emotions rolled up into one.  But First Scholars and my family in Northern Kentucky are all there for me.”

After a summer internship in Washington D.C.,  Cadle will pursue a master’s degree at UK’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration. 

Undergraduate Student Speaker to Join U.S. Air Force

It is traditional at UK’s undergraduate commencement for there to be an student speaker.  This year, that role goes to Mercedes Rosato , a kinesiology major from northern Michigan.   After breaking the news to her family, Rosato says  her mother was quite proud. 

“She was saying that this was a great way for me to show how much I love UK.  I’m 5’9”.  I could never be a cheerleader, but I can definitely share some school spirit this way.” 

When asked about her speech, Rosato says it will come down to three main points. 

“Never stop having fun.  A lot of times, we hear that college is the best time of our lives, but we can keep having fun afterwards.  Be nice to people; everyone’s so stressed out all the time, we need a smile every now and then, and never stop learning, as we have a lot of opportunities to continue.” 

Following graduation, Rosato will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.  In October she will move to Columbus, Mississippi for pilot training.

These five individuals will join their peers for commencement in Rupp Arena this Sunday, May 5th.  Further information is available at the event’s website