MURFREESBORO — MTSU’s 2,511 newly minted graduates rightly should be proud of their hard-won accomplishment because “it is a BIG DEAL,” but should always consider “detours” to find new opportunities, commencement speakers said today, May 9.
“This is a day to celebrate all of you and this major accomplishment in your lives. It's a BIG DEAL,” Tennessee Higher Education Commission Chairman Evan Cope told the audience inside Murphy Center for the morning ceremony at MTSU’s spring 2015 commencement.
“But it's not just a big deal to you, and it's not just a big deal to your family and your friends and your loved ones who supported you through this long process. It's a big deal to our society, and it's a big deal to our democracy. As a society we all benefit as a collective whole from your accomplishment.”
That benefit creates an educated, informed electorate, he explained.
“We've got a duty to be informed and to be educated about the issues that inform our world,” the Murfreesboro attorney continued. “It’s our duty to be informed.
“Higher education is vital to the preservation and perpetuation of our democracy. We have to have an educated population, and we have to make higher education as available and accessible to as many people as we possibly can.”
Afternoon speaker Darin Gordon, director of health care finance and administration for the state of Tennessee and an MTSU alumnus, encouraged the graduates to “appreciate the vast unpredictability of life and to be on the lookout for detours, even when they don't look like the paths you were first expecting.”
Gordon noted that he’d planned since fifth grade to become an attorney, but he heeded an unexpected suggestion from his political science professor, now liberal arts dean Dr. Mark Byrnes, to take a state government internship that changed his focus.
“There were stops different from the one I'd mapped out from my fifth-grade plan. I went down this path, and … each step I took was full of growth opportunities,” he said. “I want you to have the courage to take a new path, even if it's different from the one you thought you would take, for it may take you where you never knew you needed to go.”
The first Class of 2015 receiving degrees from MTSU May 9 included 2,128 undergraduates and 383 graduate students — the third largest graduating class in the university’s 104-year history.
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 in the afternoon event.
With hopes of investment banking on the horizon, Frederick Eddins Jr., 23, of Nashville, cherished his moment with about 30 family members, led by parents Andrea and Frederick Eddins Sr. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“This is a pretty big step up for me, being the first person in my family to graduate,” said Eddins, who wore both military veteran and fraternity regalia on his MTSU commencement gown. He has served four years in the Army National Guard and is a member of Phi Delta Theta.
“I jumped a big hurdle in my life, being the first in the family, and knowing the retention rate — not a lot of people graduate — so I’m proud to be part of the retention rate. After this, I’ll look for a job and hope to find something in Nashville.”
For 60-year-old Marion Henry Veals, the spring 2015 graduation was about proving something to himself and to others.
Veals, an intermediate studies major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the College of University Studies, first attended MTSU in the 1970s.
Life intervened, and he worked at Murfreesboro's General Electric plant for 20 years. When he returned to MTSU, he needed only four more semesters of credits to obtain a bachelor's degree.
Veals, who now uses a wheelchair after surgery damaged his knee three years ago, said building accessibility for people with disabilities is especially important to him.
"It's 2015," said Veals. "Everything ought to be accessible to everybody. It's OK to be beautiful, but it should be beautiful and functional at the same time."
Achieving goals while living with disabilities wasn't all Veals intended to prove.
"I wanted to prove to my daughter that you're never too old to follow your dreams," Veals said.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee encouraged the new graduates to “bask in the glory that surrounds this day” but reminded them that it’s also a starting point for their next adventures.
"You may feel that this long journey is over,” McPhee said. “We feel that it is just a comma, not a period, in your story. It is just the beginning of even greater things to come."
MTSU’s commencement ceremonies are always free and open to the public. Friends, families and supporters who can’t attend in person can watch each ceremony live online via streaming video; more than 1,800 people from around the world watched this semester’s commencement ceremonies online.
You also can see more photos from the May 9 spring 2015 commencement ceremonies at the MTSU Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/mtsublueraiders.
MTSU’s summer 2015 commencement is scheduled Saturday, Aug. 8, inside Murphy Center.
The university’s 2015-16 academic year begins Monday, Aug. 24, with the first official day of fall 2015 semester classes. University Convocation, a public ceremony welcoming new freshmen into the MTSU family, is set for Sunday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m. in Murphy Center.