MURFREESBORO — MTSU's newest alumni are already successful, guest speakers agreed at Saturday's fall 2015 commencement ceremonies, by earning university degrees, and now those new degrees can help the 1,841 graduates create success for others.
During dual ceremonies that turned unusually joyful — and even a little rambunctious at times — in Murphy Center, Judge Donna Scott Davenport and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker encouraged the graduates to use their unique gifts wisely.
"Each one of you here today, you're already a success," said morning ceremony speaker Davenport, an MTSU alumna who serves as Rutherford County Juvenile Court judge. "Guys, you are walking across this stage, out Murphy Center, with proof of that success.
"But I dare you, each one, to dream the greatest dreams and seek the highest goals that will build the brightest tomorrows that your future can have. There's no limit to what you can do. Your success and what you can achieve, the possibilities, are endless, as long as you believe that you can."
Afternoon speaker Corker, joking that the exuberance in Murphy Center was "the most I've ever seen at one of these ceremonies," said the day's excitement should translate into excitement for the future, too.
"Here's what I would say to you: Give back," the former Chattanooga mayor said after encouraging graduates to master skills to become "absolutely indispensable" and "have a bold vision" for their work.
"There's nothing that makes one feel more whole in life ... than giving of yourself to make someone else's life better. … I promise it'll make your life so much more meaningful."
The afternoon ceremony had extra excitement as well as poignancy as senior Rachel Ruppe, who fought her way back from a near-fatal auto accident, and state Rep. Mike Sparks received their degrees and the university presented a posthumous bachelor's degree to the parents of senior Jacob Murr.
Murr, a Kingston, Tennessee, resident who would have received his public relations degree from the College of Media and Entertainment, died earlier this semester after a traffic accident.
You can learn more about Ruppe's and Sparks' accomplishments at http://ow.ly/VOfmj and http://ow.ly/VOfj6, respectively.
Noting that commencement is "the single most important event at this university," President Sidney A. McPhee reminded the new graduates of the role the day will play in their lives.
"Although you may feel that the long journey is over, those of us at MTSU see this … as just the beginning of greater things to come," he said.
Geosciences graduate Geoff Wheaton, who earned a 3.65 GPA in his geographic information systems and remote sensing concentration, echoed the president's sentiment, explaining that he felt “excited and bittersweet” as he entered Murphy Center for the morning ceremony.
“I don’t know how it’s going to feel, being out in the real world and not coming to MTSU,” said Wheaton. “I will take it day by day, work with what I’ve got and see where it takes me. It’ll take me to good places, hopefully.”
Nearly 20 family members and friends were in Murphy Center to see Wheaton graduate. A student worker in the James E. Walker Library for four years, he's also been performing geospatial work as part of his four years in the Tennessee Air National Guard and initially plans to be a base honor guard member.
Liberal studies graduate Christina Chavez said she did most of her homework after her children, Naomi, 8, and Eli, 5, went to bed, but sometimes they watched her work. Chavez took two of her final classes online, which is a major help to nontraditional older students taking classes in MTSU’s University College.
“You really have to stay on top of yourself when you take online classes, and sometimes I would fall short on that,” Chavez said, “but I like being able to do things at my own pace, especially with the kids.”
Chavez is undecided about pursuing a career as a teacher or a nurse, but she said she’s definitely thinking about going to graduate school.
“I never thought about how hard it was,” she said. “I just knew I had to do it.”
MTSU’s Registrar’s Office reported this week that 1,577 of the 1,841 students graduating Dec. 12 are undergraduates and 264 are graduate students, including 251 master’s candidates, four education-specialist degree recipients and nine doctoral candidates. Twenty-one undergrads received undergraduate certificates, and three graduate students received graduate certificates.