Eli Capilouto told the audience at Thursday’s Great Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster Breakfast that he makes trips to Owensboro for selfish reasons.

“You remind me who I work for at the University of Kentucky, and that’s the citizens across the commonwealth,” Capilouto said. “You are the center of commerce, culture, and compassion, and I admire you.”

The UK president said he and members of the chamber all share a mission: to advance Kentucky, be that economically, through education, or creating a healthier citizenship. Whatever the mission, the responsibility of everyone in the attendance at Owensboro Convention Center should be to create a brighter future for all in Kentucky.

That drive encourages him to work harder for the university “to have more and more communities like yours,” he said.

“Even though we have had to grapple with the pandemic, which just continues to annoy us, we realized that our responsibility is to start thinking about an even brighter future for Kentucky, and what should it hold ... knowing now we have to be able to pivot on a dime if necessary,” he said.

He went over five principles that he said best describe UK’s future: inspire ingenuity; hold a responsibility to take care of Kentuckians; continue to put students first; maintain accountability, trust, and transparency; and honor the idea that we are many people, but we must be one community.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Capilouto described, the brightest minds at UK convened to discuss how to get through this. As a leader in the state and country, in research and medical services, those representatives knew they had to act fast to move forward.

They developed a playbook. A plan was devised to make a call to every one of the 30,000 students after they were sent home to isolate, to ensure they were well.

The UK College of Design created a unique face mask that could be manufactured easily and used in the College of Medicine and other health sciences. UK also became one of the biggest centers for clinical trials, Capilouto said.

“I will confess to anybody this has been the roughest year of my 40-year career,” he said.

Still, as he witnessed action taking place, he felt hope.

In December of 2020, Capilouto told Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, that if given access to the COVID-19 vaccine, UK would ensure that every school teacher, first responder, and health care worker in Fayette County would be inoculated.

Within weeks, 250,000 doses had been given.

“We cannot lose site of our responsibility as the commonwealth flagship research university to maintain trust with people who make possible everything I’ve described to you,” he said.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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