Brothers continue family legacy at FHSU

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- For more than a century, the Peppiatt family has found a home at Fort Hays State University.

Brothers Clay and Tayler Peppiatt will walk across the stage Friday evening in the first of two commencement ceremonies at FHSU. Fort Hays State, which will graduate more than 4,000 students in a year for the first time, will have another commencement ceremony Saturday morning. Both ceremonies will be held in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The Peppiatt siblings earned Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in graphic design -- the same degree their father, Andrew Peppiatt, received when he graduated from Fort Hays State in 1985. Andrew and his wife, Kay, will watch their sons graduate this weekend, much like they did in 2014 when their daughter, Alyssa, completed her FHSU bachelor's degree in organizational leadership.

"I was very pleased that they decided to further their education and very honored that they all chose my alma mater, continuing the legacy," Andrew said.

Two of Kay's sisters and a brother attended Fort Hays State; one sister graduated with a degree in graphic design. In addition, cousins on Kay's side of the family are currently attending FHSU.

The family's relationship with Fort Hays State can be traced back to Andrew's great aunt, Ethel Peppiatt Holmes, who attended Western Branch of the Kansas Normal School with her two older sisters between 1908 and 1912. Andrew learned in his research that his great aunt played basketball at the Normal School and came home only on Christmas due to the high cost of riding the train. She was a lifelong educator and education advocate until her death at 103.

"It's kind of a family legacy," Andrew said. "I had no intention of going to college until I visited my great aunt."

Andrew, who grew up on a farm near Ellsworth, now lives and works in Salina as a conceptual designer for Blue Beacon, a national truck washing company. His three children all graduated from Salina South High School. Tayler, the oldest at 27, and Alyssa, 25, both transferred to FHSU after first attending a larger in-state university.

"I was kind of ready for something smaller," Alyssa said.

Alyssa now works as a marketing specialist and coordinator for BKD CPAs & Advisors, which has an office in Wichita. Her degree at FHSU proved beneficial.

"It gave me a very diverse background that really was applicable to any organization," she said. "Now, I'm able to work in teams, manage my own projects, understand organizational communication and outside communication."

Clay, now 22, was a freshman at FHSU during Alyssa's senior year in college. Tayler transferred to FHSU the following year. With Alyssa working as an admissions counselor after graduation, all three siblings were on campus in the 2014-15 school year.

"When I first visited Fort Hays State, it felt like I belonged here; I was part of a family," Clay said. "My dad wanted me to check it out, at least. My sister was going here. I could see myself going here."

Tayler and Clay took graphic arts classes under Chaiwat Thumsujarit, professor of art and design. Their father also took classes under Thumsujarit, more commonly known as Chaiwat (pronounced Chy-what), three decades ago.

"I was happy to see the boys follow in my footsteps and pursue graphic design," Andrew said. "It just so happens that they also have had the opportunity to learn from one of the most talented people I know."

Chaiwat was a graduate assistant working on his master's degree when Andrew first met him and later took classes under him.

"Chaiwat would allow us to work in our own direction, giving us little nudges along the way," Andrew said. "He had a knack for helping his students express themselves in their projects, usually with a surprising twist. He makes you see things from different angles, gets you excited about an idea, and then everyone feeds off that excitement and the idea morphs into something special."

"He's got all these metaphors for everything," Tayler said. "You get into it, you realize how deep and conceptual he is with everything."

"He thinks outside the box," Clay said. "He teaches us to do that as well. Going into the program, we all thought a certain way. He teaches things from a different perspective."

In addition to courses under Chaiwat, the brothers took several other classes together over the next three years.

"I think it did help me, especially with the art classes, trying to be creative," Clay said. "We were able to bounce ideas off each other."

Tayler bounced around, trying several different majors before settling on graphic design. Among the areas of study he concentrated on were math and physics, English, psychology and philosophy, before deciding graphic design was what he was meant to do.

"I realized all the doodles I had going on in my formula sheets for calculus and applied physics were taking over," he said. "I decided to pursue a degree in art."

The brothers hope to begin their careers near the Rocky Mountains. They plan to move to Denver this summer and look for jobs while at the same time satisfy their passion for the great outdoors.

"The world's our oyster right now," Tayler said. "You pick a place to plant yourself, hopefully grow in that garden."

The siblings considered other parts of the country where graphic design was also a hot commodity, but the Rockies beckoned.

"We always wanted to be around the mountains," Clay said.

On Friday, the brothers will be right where they wanted -- in cap and gown, ready to walk across that stage. With both of them graduating at the same time, one brother joked it would save on catering. They will be carrying on the Peppiatt name at Fort Hays State University, more than a century in the making.

"We kept the tradition going," Clay said.

"We're walking the same day," Tayler said. "It's been a cool ride."

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