Dr. Jay Akridge, Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, Felecia Dixon Henderson, Bill Beard and Ernie Vande Zande honored at Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner

MURRAY, Ky. — The Murray State Alumni Association celebrated five outstanding Murray State University alumni named as the 2019 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award during the Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on April 12 at the CFSB Center.

Established in 1962, the Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually to alumni who have made meaningful contributions to their professions on a local, state and national level. This award is the highest honor an alumnus can receive from the Murray State Alumni Association and stands to recognize alumni who have excelled personally and professionally.

Among the recipients of the award are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and renowned authors, research scientists and physicians, executives, educators, military leaders and Emmy Award-winning broadcasters. Joining them this year were Dr. Jay Akridge, ’82, Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, ’80, Felecia Dixon Henderson, ’83, Bill Beard, ’71, and Ernie Vande Zande, ’71 (posthumously).

Each award recipient is a testament to the Murray State experience, with each of them going on to make a name for themselves in a variety of industries after graduation.

“This award has been given for nearly 60 years now, and we continue to have a diverse and high-achieving group every single time,” said Carrie McGinnis, director of alumni relations. “No matter where you are, it’s easy to find a Racer at the top of their field.”

At an informal meet-and-greet before the dinner, the evening’s guests of honor shared some of their favorite Murray State memories, as well as how their Racer education helped them end up where they are now.

“I had an opportunity to do so much at Murray State,” said Henderson, a news industry veteran who recently retired from a leadership role at The Detroit News after nearly 30 years. “I think the individual attention that professors gave to students in these smaller classes really helped facilitate opportunities to have real conversations about where they want to take their career, and those conversations helped me as an editor to have those same kind of interactions with my staff.”

“When I sat in classes at Murray State, I wasn’t being taught by graduate assistants,” said Johnson, a retired director of operational capability requirements at Air Force headquarters. “I was being taught by professors, those that held the terminal degrees and had been doing it for a long time. These were professors that had an influence on all of us, and I think that’s important. I had a liberal arts education that is well rounded and equips students with real-world problem-solving skills they need to compete in a world that is changing faster than any of us can keep up with.”

Akridge, who serves as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity at Purdue University, said he couldn’t believe it when McGinnis called him to tell him he won the award.

“I was shocked and very humbled,” he said. “Murray State is a part of my family. My dad went here in the ‘50s and played basketball, my brothers went here and my sister-in-law and nephew went to Murray State. To be recognized by this University that’s been so important to us means so much to me.”

Beard reminisced about his time on campus, including his friendship with the late Vande Zande that grew through military careers and rifleman competitions.

“I was close friends with the empty chair over there,” Beard said. “We went to school together in the ‘60s, and had sports and military careers that paralleled one another. I feel like I’m almost here on his coattails, but I know he’d be honored as well. It’s quite overwhelming.”

Photo: The Murray State Alumni Association celebrated five outstanding Murray State alumni named as the 2019 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award during the Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on April 12 at the CFSB Center. From left are recipients Dr. Jay Akridge, Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, Felecia Dixon Henderson, Murray State University President Dr. Bob Jackson, recipient Bill Beard and Bart McNealy, a dear friend of recipient Ernie Vande Zande, who was recognized posthumously.

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