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Largest Tennessee Tech graduating class celebrates commencement

Staff Reports • Updated Jun 1, 2017 at 8:30 PM

COOKEVILLE – The largest graduating class in the history of Tennessee Tech celebrated commencement on Saturday with two ceremonies inside the Eblen Center.

Degrees were awarded to about 1,520 men and women who came to Tennessee Tech from 79 counties throughout Tennessee, 34 states, and 28 other countries. Those earning undergraduate degrees represented 40 fields of study while those receiving graduate degrees represented 23 fields of study. 

“These graduates leave us today with new knowledge, new skills and, we hope, confidence in their role as professional, practical and productive citizens,” said president Phil Oldham. “Our duty is fulfilled in them – they are bold, fearless and confident.”

Among the graduates were Johnny Stites and Lamora Llorens. 

Stites, a longtime Cookeville businessman and a current member of Tech’s board of trustees, earned a master’s degree in professional studies while Llorens, a business major, is the first student at Tech to earn the distinctive new innovation and entrepreneurship certificate.

“You are a part of something larger than yourself – a community of scholars, both faculty and students, linked by a common purpose to create and learn and share,” Oldham said to the graduates.

Barbara Fleming served as the keynote speaker for both services. A 1971 Tech graduate, Fleming practiced at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for many years before serving as the chief quality officer of the Veterans Health Administration. She earned the Surgeon General’s Distinguished Service Medal for Contributions to the Health of the Nation, the highest award given by the surgeon general.

A current member of Tech’s board of trustees, Fleming used T-shirts to illustrate her points to graduates.

“This might be the first Tech commencement T-shirt talk. Let’s start with a motto that I love which I found on a T-shirt: ‘Don’t wish for it, work for it,’” said Fleming.

“There will be times in life when you are frustrated with the way things are going at home, in your career, in your church or community, even in the world. So, remember the quote from Mahatma Gandhi on a T-shirt: ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’”

Fleming wrapped up her speech by saying “The joy, the success, and the value of your life depend on the giving – giving back to your family and friends, giving back to your church, giving back to your community, giving back to this university that gave you a strong start in your career, and giving back to your country.”

There were a combined 26 graduates who serve or have served in the United States Armed Forces. Doctorate degrees were awarded to nine students while nine students earned a specialist in education degree. Master’s degrees were awarded to 188 students.

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