MURFREESBORO — MTSU’s newest graduates can be “game-changers” like George Washington and Jackie Robinson by using their education to accomplish good things for themselves, their families and for society, Murfreesboro’s mayor said Saturday.
And NBC’s vice president and Washington bureau chief said students can use ordinary, common-sense tools to turn their careers — and their lives — into something extraordinary.
Speaking to graduates in the morning ceremony for the university’s fall 2014 commencement, MTSU alumnus Shane McFarland explained that he, like many of the students, is a small-town native and the first in his family to go to college.
Joined by his twin brother at MTSU, McFarland, who earned an accounting degree in 1997 and served as student body president, now owns his own business and was elected mayor earlier this year.
“I can honestly stand before you and tell you that MTSU has changed my life,” McFarland said. “Graduating from this institution has not just changed me; it’s changed my family’s legacy.”
He cited moments in the lives of President George Washington, British abolitionist William Wilberforce, Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell and legendary athlete Jackie Robinson that changed history as well as their lives.
“We may never have a story like George Washington, like Jackie Robinson, like William Wilberforce, like Eric Liddell, but this can be a monumental day for your and for your family,” McFarland said.
“Here’s my hope for you. Today, I know, is a game-changer for many of you, but it doesn’t stop today. Continue finding those game-changing moments, and in doing so, you’ll find a game-changing moment for someone else, for your family, for your children.”
Kimberly Vilaysouck’s graduation was not only a game-changing moment in her life; it was a watershed moment for her entire family.
Like McFarland, the MTSU marketing major from Nashville is the first person in her family to graduate from high school or college. Her family came to the United States from Vientiane, Laos, a little over 20 years ago.
Vilaysouck, who was born in the United States, said she now plans to go to graduate school.
“A lot of my marketing classes would actually have classroom speakers from the business world,” she said. “That helps us as students. The professors like to get their students very involved. That helps a lot as far as being in touch with opportunities.”
An estimated 1,803 students received their degrees in two fall 2014 commencement ceremonies inside Murphy Center.
Students from the College of Graduate Studies, Basic and Applied Sciences, Jennings A. Jones College of Business and the College of Education received their degrees in the morning ceremony. Students in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Mass Communication and the University College received their degrees at the afternoon event.
“We want you to enjoy this time of excitement and bask in the glory of this day,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told students, then saluted the loved ones who have supported their educational goals.
“This is just the beginning of greater things to come.”
MTSU alumnus Ken Strickland, who now leads NBC’s editorial affairs and administration and works closely with NBC executives in his post atop the Washington bureau, told graduates in the afternoon ceremony that he, too, had been in their position.
He then encouraged the new graduates to learn to get along with people, be open to change and be grateful.
“A lot of struggle went into getting you here today,” he said. “Try to always remember how lucky and blessed you are. Be grateful not only for the extraordinary things in your life but for the ordinary things, too.”
Austin Wood, 23, of Bellevue, Tennessee, graduated with honors and a 3.62 GPA from the MTSU's Honors College and College of Liberal Arts with a major in history and a minor in economics through the Jones College of Business.
Wood was deeply involved in campus life during his time at MTSU, including fraternity and rugby-team membership and serving as a Blue Elite campus tour guide and Student Government Association senator.
“I’ve been able to do a lot because of the size and resources available,” said Wood, donning a blue and white SGA stole over his gown. “Even though we are such a large university, it has a very small feel in the sense that you can get involved and make a difference.”
Wood plans to attend law school next, then practice disability law for a while and move eventually into politics.
MTSU’s Registrar’s Office reported that 1,516 of the 1,803 students graduating Saturday are undergraduates and 287 are graduate students, including 271 master’s candidates, five education-specialist degree recipients and 11 doctoral candidates. Another 13 students received undergraduate certificates, and two more received graduate certificates.