COOKEVILLE — One of the most challenging semesters in the storied history of Tennessee Tech University wrapped up on Saturday. Almost 700 students came to campus with family and friends to celebrate Fall 2020 commencement ceremonies at the Hooper Eblen Center.
Because of COVID-19, faculty, staff, graduates and guests followed safety protocol, wearing masks and social distancing during all three ceremonies. Graduates were spaced out on the Eblen Center floor and Oldham spoke through a purple mask.
“This ceremony is shorter than normal, but richer because you did not quit when faced with the most unusual fall semester ever at Tennessee Tech,” said Oldham. “You should be applauded for finishing what you started.”
Tech students returned to campus this fall after having an extended spring break and finishing up the spring semester with all classes moving online. The fall semester offered online, hybrid and in-person classes as faculty, staff and students maneuvered through COVID-19 safety protocols.
Besides dealing with COVID-19, Tech’s campus was affected by deadly tornadoes that touched down in Cookeville and Putnam County in March and national tensions during the summer.
“It’s said that adversity doesn’t create character, but it does reveal it,” said Oldham. “This year, your lives have been assaulted by a tornado, pounded by a pandemic and challenged by tensions of the heart and mind. And by those tests, your character has been revealed: For its kindness, strength and tenacity.”
Not only did the graduates get to hear a heart-felt message from President Oldham, they were also treated to video messages from Trudy Harper, the chairperson of Tech’s Board of Trustees; Capt. Barry “Butch” Wilmore, a board of trustee member and astronaut who will command the inaugural flight of Boeing’s Starliner to the International Space Station; board member Fred Lowery; and, Daniel Hines, the student representative on the board of trustees.
“You have worked so hard to be where you are today,” said Hines. “Despite the constant challenges thrown at you this year, you have overcome the adversity of moving to online classes last semester and the hybrid model this semester and have done exceptionally well.”
The keynote address came via video from Stephanie Erwin Dedmon, a Tech alumna who is the chief information officer for the state of Tennessee. She shared a message of inspiration and positivity.
“The best reaction to naysayers is to achieve massive success,” said Dedmon. “Never let someone else’s opinion of you define who you are or what you can be. The best way to find a notion is to prove them wrong.”
Doctoral candidates, master’s and education specialist degree recipients and undergraduates in the colleges of Agriculture and Human Ecology, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Fine Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies and the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing had their degrees confirmed.
“Graduates, this is your day,” said Oldham. “We are so proud of you, Tennessee Tech’s newest alumni.”