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Milan businesswoman energizes UTM graduates

Milan businesswoman energizes UTM graduates

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 6:00 pm

The Messenger 12.19.12

The power failed temporarily, but graduates, family members and friends remained energized for December commencement exercises Saturday morning in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
A local power outage occurred about 30 minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. start time, leaving the arena and a gathering crowd mostly in the dark. Flashlights, cell phones and emergency lighting allowed family and friends to finish filling the arena as the event was delayed until power returned and processional music began around 11:15.
Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor, welcomed the crowd for the late start and congratulated degree candidates from 53 counties, 19 states and 11 nations.
More than 600 students completed requirements to receive degrees this fall.
Cheri Childress, a UT Martin graduate and businesswoman from Milan, wasted little time adding more energy to the event after she was introduced by Rakes as commencement speaker. She opened with a story about her family’s recent Thanksgiving dinner where text messages initially replaced verbal requests to pass the food. This prompted her brother-in-law to begin collecting electronic devices and to say, “There will be no more texting at this Thanksgiving dinner.”
Her family then laughed at what had happened, but the brief story made her point.
“You see, the truth is that we build more computers, more iPads, more smartphones, to hold more and more information, to answer more questions. But, we communicate less and less,” Ms. Childress said.
She proceeded to “just talk” with the audience, admitting that nothing she told them couldn’t be found with help from Google or Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant. So she posed questions that could be answered by each individual in the audience, starting with, “When is your birthday? When were you born?”
Birthdays, she said, mark important milestones in life.
“Did you notice that with every year came just a few more responsibilities?” she asked. “It (your birthday) was given to you, but this day (commencement), … you earned. No one gave it to you.”
Much like birthdays, commencement day adds responsibilities and expectations, she said.
“As you completed your required courses to achieve your degree, in the words of Robert Kennedy, ‘Some of you saw things as they were, and you asked, “Why?” Some of you saw things as they should be, and you asked, “Why not?”And that’s OK, because this class of 2012 at UTM is graduating great leaders and great followers.”
She added, “Followers find leaders. Leaders find vision. History is filled with visionaries and followers. Ladies and gentlemen, it takes both working together.”
“And you will hear people to tell you to ‘follow your dream.’ Don’t you dare follow your dream,” she emphasized. “You go get your dream. You didn’t get here today by following your dream. You got here today by working and achieving and persevering (to achieve) your dream.”
She recalled Fred Deluca, co-founder of Subway, who opened his first restaurant in 1965. The restaurant failed, and instead of giving up, he opened a second restaurant. She remembered when she and her business partners opened their first Subway store 25 years ago. They encountered many doubters, but “25 years later and a few restaurants, a small investment and a belief in our dream and ourselves and patiently persevering became big business.”
She closed with a story about how a work crew can demolish in a short time what skilled builders toil years to construct. She then asked the graduates to look in the audience and spot families and friends.
“As you look around, graduates, and you look at this crowd that is here for you, I want you to know that we all — faculty, your family, your friends — we are all here for you. And we all, all of us, collectively believe that you will be a builder with a vision, patiently persevering. We all are counting on you.”