UTM graduates more than 600 students

UTM graduates more than 600 students
MARTIN — 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. Flash lights, 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. “To our graduates, good luck to each of you, and be assured that our faculty and staff wish you the very best,” Rakes said. “Remember that you’re soon to be part of an alumni group numbering in excess of 40,000 alumni around the world.” Cheri Childress, 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 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,” 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, Childress said, mark important milestones in life. “Did you notice that with every year came just a few more responsibilities?” she asked, adding, “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.” She named Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and other successful people who had visions for success. “But all of these leaders required followers, followers for their success to become a reality.” “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. “You see, Fred believed in himself, his vision, he was patient, and he persevered,” she said, noting that today 37,000 Subway locations can be found in 98 countries. Childress remembered when she and her business partners opened their first Subway store 25 years ago. They encountered many doubters, but “twenty five years later and a few restaurants, a small investment, and a belief in our dream and ourselves, and patiently persevering became big business.” “Graduates, we live in a time of instant gratification,” she said, adding, “Life isn’t that way. You do not build a business; you do not build a career instantly. It takes patience.” She used the example of a Chinese bamboo tree, as told by the late Zig Ziegler,famed author and motivational speaker. He explained how you plant, water and fertilize the bamboo tree seed and have to wait until it finally sprouts sometime during the fifth year, suddenly growing 90 feet in six weeks. “You can do all the right things at all the right times, but success takes patience and perseverance,” she said. 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.” Rakes conferred the degrees, and Dr. Keith Carver, West Tennessee native and executive assistant to the University of Tennessee president, brought greetings on behalf of UT President Joe DiPietro. Published in The WCP 12.20.12

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