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The trio of guest speakers at MTSU’s two-day series of spring 2018 commencement ceremonies offered similar suggestions to the record 2,641 graduates reaching this life-changing moment: use your hard-earned knowledge and skills to meet new challenges and to serve others.
MTSU anthropology professor and Career Achievement Award winner Kevin Smith told 435 doctoral, master’s and education specialist degree students in the university’s College of Graduate Studies Friday, May 4, that the “piece of parchment” he received for his Ph.D. was “really about the skills and training I took away from my graduate school experience, the ability to see new opportunities, the ability to construct meaningful research projects that touch a diverse set of audiences, and the flexibility to take advantage of unforeseen possibilities.”
“That is what you should also be taking away with you today. … Go forth and accomplish great things. The diploma will be in the mail. But you already have what you need to discover the next chapter in your own stories.”
Torren Gatson, who earned his doctorate in public history, became emotional when speaking of his academic journey and the importance of the mentorship, guidance and friendship of Louis Woods, director of the university’s new Africana Studies Program.
“It’s been a long journey and it’s taught me a lot,” said Gatson, who’s heading to a university teaching position in North Carolina. “The journey wasn’t always easy, but I don’t think it was ever designed to be. But it’s taught me a lot about myself … to sum it all up, this experience is a character-builder, for sure.”
Alumnus and MTSU Board of Trustees Chairman Stephen B. “Steve” Smith told undergraduates from the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, the Jones College of Business, the College of Education and the College of Media and Entertainment that “choosing optimism over cynicism is a tough, everyday task, and it’s not fashionable.”
“You live in the greatest time in history to make a difference,” he said during the Saturday, May 4, morning ceremony. “You’re armed with knowledge and confidence. I expect you to win and do great things for yourself, your country and your school.”
Andrew Swehla, an aspiring doctor who graduated magna cum laude Saturday morning with a 3.8 GPA in biology, used an Undergraduate Research Experience and Creative Activity grant for his University Honors College thesis.
“The Honors program is one of the biggest benefits of going here,” said Swehla, who will work at St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital while studying for the medical school entrance exam. “From advising to allowing me to conduct research, Tony and Mary Farone had a major impact on my time here. The Campus Recreation Center provided me with a flexible and rewarding job in an encouraging environment. My parents (Jerry and Sarah Swehla) offered academic advice and support.”
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, recognized the 93 veterans among the graduating class for their service and told the Saturday afternoon College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, and University College graduates that many more of their classmates also are serving the country.
“Many of you have committed yourselves to a life of service,” Caslen said, noting the police officers, firefighters, teachers, doctors, nurses and community volunteers in the group. “Service takes many forms. The common thread is a desire to help others, to make neighborhoods and communities better, to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Organizational communication major Brian Medrano, who graduated cum laude Saturday afternoon with a 3.756 GPA, said he wants to be the person who remains calm in an organizational crisis, which he translates as becoming a human resources generalist.
“I believe that when an organization is transparent communicatively … from entry-level workers to CEOs, then the organization will perform better, because no one is left out of the loop,” Medrano said. He also thanked his professors, who he said “wanted to see me succeed because they believed that my action would give a good name to them, the major in which they teach and the university … in general.”
University President Sidney A. McPhee made a point of thanking the graduates’ family, friends and other supporters as well as MTSU faculty and staff for helping the students achieve this new goal.
“We are extremely grateful and honored that you entrusted us with something so important as your education,” McPhee told the new graduates. “We’re confident in your preparation to take on new and exciting challenges, and we look forward to seeing the far-reaching impact of what you have learned during your studies at this university.”
MTSU’s Registrar’s Office reported that 2,206 of the 2,641 students receiving their degrees this weekend are undergraduates; 435 students received graduate degrees, including 380 master's candidates, 35 education-specialist recipients and 20 doctoral candidates. Four graduate students also received graduate certificates, and two undergraduates earned undergraduate certificates.
An official program, listing all the graduates, is available at http://ow.ly/dfWk30bgTyW. Photos from the three ceremonies are available at http://facebook.com/mtsublueraiders.