Family members and well wishers filled the Pickel Field House on the Gallatin campus for the event. This commencement marked the first large group of Tennessee Promise students graduating from Vol State. A total of 183 Tennessee Promise students are expected to earn degrees, with more expected in summer and fall graduation. Forty-five students graduated with degrees last fall.
“It took a big burden off my parents,” said graduate Lane Vanveckhoven, of White House. “It helped us out a lot. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school full-time without Tennessee Promise.”
Vanveckhoven will transfer to Middle Tennessee State University in the fall to complete a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.
The day was a big moment for so many students in the audience, but there was a surprise during the reading of the graduate names. Payton Watson, of Gordonsville, didn’t know his older sister, Army First Lt. Jana Watson, had just returned from a nine-month deployment in the Middle East to join him at graduation.
Gaynell Buffinet Payne was named Vol State Spring 2017 Outstanding Graduate. The Goodlettsville mom returned to college many years after her first attempt. While studying as an English major she also wrote for Vol State social media sites and was involved in Sigma Kappa Delta, the national English honors society.
Crystal Sloss, of Gallatin, said she didn’t take college seriously when she first attended. But that all changed on her second try.
“I came to Vol State in 2015 with my aunt, who had just lost her job. I said – let’s do this together,” Sloss said. “I had matured and by my second semester I decided to get involved in student activities. Having a group of people to support you, helps you have a better outlook on school.”
Sloss isn’t content with just one degree from Vol State. She graduated with a pre-nursing degree and will head back to Vol State in the fall to work on a biology degree; all of that accomplished while working full-time and raising two young daughters.
“My girls are my everything,” she said. “I want to show them that if you put your mind to something, you can do it, no matter what the obstacles.”
Kelsie Piercey, of Portland, graduated with a Vol State associate of science degree and a high school diploma. The Sumner County Middle College High School student also has more than 60 college credits that she plans to use at Berea College in Kentucky this fall for a bachelor’s degree. She is the first in her family to attend college. The journey hasn’t been easy.
“I’ve been couch hopping. I have to juggle school and work. I work about forty hours a week,” Piercey said. “If I don’t have Wi-Fi where I’m staying, that makes it hard to do homework.”
Despite the hardships, she has done well on the Vol State campus, taking classes for both high school and college credit.
“I didn’t see myself going to Vol State. I just wanted to throw it out there to see what I could do,” she said.
Piercey said she plans to pursue a career in social services when she graduates from Berea.
“I was in foster care once,” she said. “We had one really good social worker and one who didn’t care. I want to make a difference.”
Shirley Raines, president emeritus of the University of Memphis, gave the commencement address. Andrew Finney, owner of Perkins Drugs and Gift Shoppe, provided the alumni address.
For more pictures from graduation, visit facebook.com/volstate.