When Centre College alumna Jacqueline Coleman ’04 took the official public oath of office at the state Capitol in Frankfort on Tuesday, Dec. 10, she not only became the 58th lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky but also followed in the footsteps of fellow Centre graduate Crit Luallen ’74, who served as the 56th lieutenant governor.
In addition to Luallen being on hand to offer support and extend her congratulations, a contingent of people with Centre connections participated in the day’s festivities.
Prior to the ceremony, a group of Centre students, joined by a number of faculty and staff, marched up Capital Avenue in the Inaugural Parade in support of Coleman. They also attended a catered luncheon before witnessing the swearing-in.
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Michelle M. Keller, the proud parent of two Centre graduates (mother of Brenna ’11 and Olivia ’14), officially swore in Coleman, and Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., also a Centre parent (father of John ’15), swore in Andy Beshear as governor.
Both Keller and Minton served on the Centre Parents Committee while their children were in school.
Luallen, who also served two terms as state auditor and is overseeing Beshear’s budget team during the transition of leadership, had nothing but praise for Coleman.
“Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman represents all that is best in a new generation of leadership for Kentucky,” she said of her fellow Centre alumna. “She is highly competent, grounded in integrity and passionate about public service. I have watched her grow and mature since her days at Centre and am confident she will be one of the strongest leaders Kentucky has seen.”
Luallen added, “Jacqueline’s story is another fine example of how Centre prepares young people for lives of service and leadership.”
In addition to serving as lieutenant governor, Coleman will also hold a cabinet post as Secretary of Education and Workforce Development. The additional role will come naturally given her long career in public education.
Besides most recently serving as assistant principal of Nelson County High School, Coleman has served as a public school teacher and basketball coach. Education runs in the family. Her husband, Chris O’Bryan, currently teaches science and coaches basketball at Frankfort High School.
In a statement after the cabinet announcement, Coleman said that “Education is the cornerstone of Kentucky’s future,” adding that “It is the foundation upon which our economic and physical health must be built.”
She echoed these comments in her inaugural address at the swearing-in ceremony.
“Every challenge we face in this commonwealth, we see in our classrooms every day. Our classrooms are microcosms of our communities,” Coleman said.
“Education has the power to break the cycle of poverty. To catapult a student to places they never knew they could go. To find stability, hope and opportunity. To change the trajectory of a child’s life—and their family’s lives for every tomorrow,” she added.
Coleman credits much of her current success to her years as a Centre College student.
Her fondest Centre memories have to do with time spent with classmates who have become life-long friends. “The relationships that I built during this pivotal time in my life have served me well,” Coleman said.
She admits it is nearly impossible, however, to find the words to do her Centre experience justice.
“In my time there, I was constantly pushed to be better because of the high expectations, both academically and athletically. I went on to become a high school teacher, basketball coach and assistant principal. So, the opportunity to have the same positive impact on the lives of my students and players was one I did not take lightly,” she reflected.
“I think it is safe to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am, nor would I be where I am today, without the impact that Centre had on my life.”
Though she didn’t necessarily see it for herself initially, Coleman learned the value of public service at a young age.
“My father, Jack Coleman, served as a school board member and state representative from the time I was in elementary school until I graduated from Centre,” she said. “While I was always exposed to public service, I am not sure I really saw myself as someone who would pursue public office until much later. I felt moved to run for state representative in 2014 when I realized that public education was in jeopardy.”
While Coleman was unsuccessful in her first electoral run, she said her fervent commitment to education led to her second attempt.
“That race propelled me to a position where I would eventually have the opportunity to become the first educator since Martha Layne Collins to serve as lieutenant governor,” she said.
“Every challenge we face in Kentucky, teachers face in their classrooms every day, and I wanted to give the kids in our classrooms a voice,” she added. “I am an advocate for the next generation of Kentuckians, because I know that the future of Kentucky’s economy is in our classrooms today.”
In saying this, Coleman easily recalls the transformative classroom experiences she had at Centre. Among her favorites was a course on Cold War America taught by Clarence Wyatt, a 1978 Centre graduate who held a variety of academic and administrative roles at Centre before becoming president of Monmouth College in Illinois in 2014.
“I am very pleased, but not surprised, at Jacqueline’s election as the lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Wyatt.
“In the classes that she had with me, her intelligence and work ethic always showed through. She also displayed a powerful interest in connecting the knowledge she was gaining and the skills she was developing to the wider world,” he added.
“That Jacqueline has devoted herself to public service, and succeeded so well, is gratifying to those of us lucky enough to have had her as a student. Still a Kentuckian at heart, I am proud that she is serving the commonwealth in this important position.”
In addition to Coleman and Luallen, three Centre graduates have held the office of Kentucky lieutenant governor, including James Breathitt Jr., who served with Gov. Flem D. Sampson from 1927 to 1931.
Currently celebrating its bicentennial, Centre’s connections to the governor’s office extend back to the founding of the College and the commonwealth. Kentucky’s first (and later fifth) governor, Isaac Shelby, served as the first chair of the Centre College Board of Trustees.
Besides three lieutenant governors, 11 state governors attended Centre College, including notable public figures Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown, Class of 1855, and Tennessee Governor Austin Peay III, Class of 1895.
by Michael Strysick
December 11, 2019