The 2,474 new graduates in Middle Tennessee State University’s first Class of 2022 are on their way to adventures great and small, jubilantly accepting their hard-earned university degrees Saturday, May 7, during a day of commencement ceremonies marked by three guests who praised their resolve.
“Nothing should hold back the size and shape of your dreams. It is our talent for imagination and creativity that make us humans,” said the Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Edward Davis, speaking to the first group of newly minted MTSU alumni during the morning commencement ceremony for the Jones College of Business, College of Education and the University College.
“… The most valuable knowledge you gain here is the importance of keeping your mind open and thinking critically. None of us can afford to be complacent; we must keep learning. So let’s decide, you and I, to make the most of the gift of imagination and creativity and to never allow the fears or limitations of others to overtake our sense of what is possible for ourselves and for our countries.”
Guest speaker Christine Karbowiak, vice chair of MTSU’s Board of Trustees and retired top Bridgestone Americas executive, praised the graduates’ ability to rise to unprecedented challenges and still focus on life-changing opportunities.
“… Plans almost never unfold exactly like we want them to, and thank the stars for that,” she told the afternoon graduates from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and College of Liberal Arts. “Real life is so much more interesting than plans.
“In my experience, it’s the people who believe this and embrace this, those who are willing to pivot in the face of either opportunities or challenges, who find the most success and satisfaction along the road into the future. Not only that, they wind up being deeply grateful for all those detours.”
Graduating Nashville resident Ben Weber’s decision to pivot into a new career came when coronavirus restrictions put his live audio engineering career on hold.
“I have always loved kids and come from a family of educators,” the Laurel, Mississippi, native said. “It was encouraging to know that I could get my teaching licensure and master’s degree completed through the program in two years, and, in the blink of an eye, here I am.”
Now certified to teach kindergarten through fifth grade with a new Master of Education degree from the College of Education, Weber will be looking at Nashville- and Murfreesboro-area schools in hopes of landing a fourth or fifth grade teaching position. He said he’s proud of the knowledge and skills he’s acquired at MTSU — and the great memories, too.
“Commencement is a culmination of many hours of work and stress, new relationships and experiences, smiles and tears, long nights and the attainment of goals,” he said. “I love the program’s focus on personal creativity. I particularly enjoyed dressing up as Buzz Aldrin for a social studies lesson on the moon landings.”
Combining classroom, real-world experiences
MTSU’s spring Class of 2022 included 2,041 undergraduates and 433 graduate students receiving degrees Saturday. The second figure included 389 master’s degrees, 25 education-specialist degrees and 19 doctorates, along with 18 graduate students who received certificates for their advanced study.
When the day was done, MTSU reached a new milestone: more than 175,000 degrees conferred since its 1911 founding. The May 7 ceremonies put the total number of MTSU degrees earned at more than 175,820.
Franklin, Tennessee, native Cynthia Torres, a first-generation college student, aspires to use her new MTSU psychology degree from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences as the foundation for a career as an addiction therapy counselor.
She’s on her way to Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to pursue a master’s degree with extensive skills already gleaned from community service and her studies.
“I do volunteer work at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville,” said Torres, recipient of the 2021-22 Community Service Award from MTSU’s Office of Student Organizations and Service along with transfer and nontraditional student fellowships and scholarships.
“The program’s focus is inner healing and conflict resolution. I also teach the same program at a couple of different area churches (and) have started a narrative therapy group at Franklin Christian Church.”
Torres’ research for her University Honors College thesis, “Exploring Gender Differences in Self-Talk Content and Frequency,” may also play a role in her work with therapy clients.
“There have been few studies done on gender differences in self-talk,” the afternoon graduate explained. “… It was very interesting information and will help me in addiction counseling, as there are gender differences in both addiction and recovery.”
Fellow graduate Jared Frazier of Spring Hill, Tennessee, earned his MTSU computer science degree summa cum laude — with highest honors — and is now headed to Bethesda, Maryland, for an internship with the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.
Then the Honors College Buchanan Fellow and national Goldwater Scholarship recipient, who minored in chemistry, is off to the Netherlands, where he’s been accepted into the University of Amsterdam’s Master of Computational Science Program.
Saturday’s milestone has him grateful to the educators who’ve helped guide his path.
“I am thrilled to graduate from MTSU, and it has been the greatest honor of my life to work with the esteemed faculty and staff,” he said.
Frazier specifically mentioned Honors College international fellowships coordinator Laura Clippard; Office of Research and Sponsored Programs program manager Jamie Burriss; chemistry professors Mengliang Zhang and Greg Van Patten, who also serves as dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences; computer science professors Sal Barbosa and Josh Phillips and others “who have been integral to my current and future success.”
His resume also includes performing National Science Foundation-funded research at the University of Michigan, co-founding MTSU’s Student Organization for the Advancement of Research; co-authoring articles in five scientific journals; serving as literature editor for MTSU’s creative arts journal, Collage; and acting in two MTSU Theatre productions.
‘Have an outward focus’
MTSU Department of Marketing professor Tim Graeff, recipient of the university’s 2021 Career Achievement Award and director of the MTSU Office of Consumer Research, urged the newest alumni to think about what they consider successful.
Citing comments ranging from Albert Einstein to Denzel Washington about the importance of seeking ways to serve others, Graeff told graduates in the evening commencement for MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences and College of Media and Entertainment that looking outward is the real key to success.
“If you expect it of others, you expect it of businesses, will you expect it of yourself? Do you expect to be someone who is willing to give back, have an outward focus, be focused on helping others — supporting, uplifting and encouraging other people?” Graeff asked the students.
“I hope you do, because I am convinced that if you can have an outward focus as you go through life, if you can strive toward helping other people, giving back and supporting other people, you will be well on your way to happiness and success.”
University President Sidney A. McPhee reminded the new graduates and their supporters to pause and savor their accomplishments before stepping into their new roles.
“We are very grateful that you’re a member of this academic community and that you chose this university as the place to pursue your academic dreams,” he said.
“Enjoy this time of excitement. … It is our great pleasure to reward your commitment and educational achievement with these degrees.”
Graduate degree recipients participated with their academic college instead of a separate ceremony for the College of Graduate Studies.
McPhee also presented speaker Davis and former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam with honorary doctorates during the morning ceremony, noting their contributions to education.
MTSU’s official spring 2022 commencement program, listing all the graduates by college as well as providing more details on the guest speakers, is available at https://bit.ly/MTSpring2022GradProgram.
A video recap of the ceremonies is available at https://youtu.be/KWzy2nGxy_U, and photos from the day’s events are available at https://bit.ly/MTSpring2022GradPhotos.
MTSU’s summer 2022 semester classes begin Monday, May 16.
For updates on MTSU anytime, visit https://mtsu.edu.