University of Tennessee at Martin grads challenged by speaker to mentor others
Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 6:00 pm
The Messenger 05.08.13
Chris Palmer now has a master’s degree that brings her a step closer to a teaching career.
Greg Frye sees law school in his future after receiving a bachelor of university studies degree.
Ms. Palmer and Frye were among more than 600 students who participated Saturday in spring commencement at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
A capacity crowd in Skyhawk Arena celebrated with the graduating class as Dr. Rich Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Com-mission, delivered the commencement address.
Ms. Palmer, who previously lived in Dyersburg but now resides in Clarksville, received a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in teaching and plans to teach secondary social studies.
Frye, of Newbern, plans to work in Nashville as a staff member for the Tennessee Legislature before attending law school. A non-traditional student, Frye began college in fall 2008, was active in university life and was recognized during commencement by Rhoda for his two-year term as a student member to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Mar-tin chancellor, welcomed the crowd and introduced Rhoda, who has served as THEC executive director since 1997.
Rhoda issued two challenges to the graduates.
“First, I want to challenge you to recognize the value of what you have just accomplished, in terms of what it means to you personally and in terms of what it means to our state and nation,” he said. “And, second, I want to challenge you to rise to this monumental occasion and seize, without worry or concern, the responsibilities now afforded to you as a new college graduate.”
He first addressed the value of earning a college degree, noting that some might question the value of pursuing a college education.
“You did the right thing by coming here and completing your degree, even in this time of economic uncertainty,” he said, noting that rewards await those who earn a college degree.
“Unlike previous generations, today’s knowledge-based economy requires skills and abilities beyond what you learned in high school,” he said. “For you to have more opportunities, better options in life, a life of greater independence, and a more stable and fulfilling career, a college education is an absolute necessity.”
He reported that people who hold a bachelor’s degree earn 85 percent more than those with a high school diploma only and that college graduates average $1 million more in lifetime earnings.
“Your degree offers you protection from facing extended periods of unemployment,” he said. “Those with bachelor’s degrees are far more likely to be employed than those without (a degree), and this is true even in the most recent recession.”
Rhoda then spoke of a higher calling for those about to benefit from their academic achievements. By earning a college degree, he told the class that they have “an opportunity to play a central role in this state’s new public policy agenda.” He spoke of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement earlier this year of a goal for 55 percent of Tennessee adults to earn a college credential by the year 2025. The reason is, Rhoda said, “because that’s the percentage of jobs in our knowledge-based economy that will require skills and credentials beyond high school in 2025.”
Reaching this goal will require cooperation at all educational levels, he said, “And communities will need to promote ‘college going’ to their citizens as a way to a better life, not just for individuals, but for everyone.”
“New technologies will continue to be extremely helpful in the pursuit of this goal,” he said. “Online courses will change the way students interact with professors and other students. Massive Open Online Courses will bring free college-level coursework to everyone with an Internet connection.
“But these new delivery methods won’t be enough. Reaching that ‘Big Goal’ is going to mean bringing more people into and successfully through the college pipeline. And that’s where you come in.”
He challenged graduates “to be a mentor to someone else.” This might include assisting someone to complete a college application or financial aid paperwork. Even explaining to someone the skills needed for certain occupations can encourage the pursuit of higher education.
“And a third group, graduates, if you know someone who is just a few hours shy of completing a college degree or certificate, and has been away from higher education for a while, convince them to come back,” he said. “Convince them the benefits of earning that credential. Be their mentor, and see them through the process.”
Rhoda closed by urging graduates “to be to others what that special person was to you on your way through the journey that led you across the finish line and to your graduation today.”
“I assure you that the benefits and opportunities that are now available to you will mean more to you when you take responsibility for this greater good,” he said. “Just as a college education is a means to bettering your life, it also is a means for you to better the lives of others.”
Dr. David Millhorn, UT executive vice president and vice president for research and economic development, represented UT President Joe DiPietro and congratulated graduates and their families on behalf of the University of Tennessee. Millhorn joined Chancellor Rakes for the conferring of degrees.