COOKEVILLE — On a picturesque day in the Upper Cumberland, more than 1,330 degrees were confirmed during commencement ceremonies in an outdoor celebration at Tucker Stadium.
Thousands of parents, family and friends joined Tennessee Tech’s faculty, staff and alumni to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduates during the two ceremonies.
“You see before you hundreds of men and women who have reached a milestone,” said Tech President Phil Oldham. “Our duty is fulfilled in them — they are bold, fearless and confident.”
Carl Owens, a retiring professor in the College of Education, led the procession as macebearer. Owens manages the College of Education’s Jeffers-Davis endowment that supports future teachers, and he’s served more than 25 years as an Apple Distinguished Educator. He was also the founding director for Tech’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.
“Thank you, Dr. Owens for your amazing career and your faithful service to Tech,” said Oldham. “We have been lucky to have had you here.”
The featured speakers included Board of Trustees members Rhedona Rose and Teresa Vanhooser, along with student government association president Aaron Lay, and former vice president of student affairs, Marc Burnett. They all recorded messages that were played on the jumbotron.
Two alumni, who have given Tech students extraordinary support and service, were given honorary degrees. Harry Stonecipher received an honorary doctorate in engineering and Millard Oakley received an honorary doctorate in agriculture.
The most heart-felt moment came when President Oldham recognized Zachary Tyler Parsley. A senior psychology major, who was on track to graduate as an honors student, Zachary was killed in a car crash last Friday. With his family in attendance, Zachary’s brother, Nick, accepted his degree and academic excellence medal to a standing ovation.
“I’m speechless to be honest. We have been extremely blessed by Tennessee Tech, his friends and family, this whole time. He’s a big fan of Tennessee Tech so I know this would have meant a lot to him and I’m honored to do this for him,” said Nick. “We have been blessed by friends, family, the community, both Cookeville and Tennessee Tech, and Smithville. Everybody has been so good to us. It’s kind of heartwarming and it’s also sad. Given the circumstances, we are extremely blessed.”
It was the first time commencement ceremonies had been held outdoors. The commencement services also marked the end of a challenging school year in which campus had to engage COVID-19 safety protocols with masks and social distancing, and classes being held online and in person.
“When you were asked to adapt, you did,” said Oldham. “When you were told to be patient, you were. When you were encouraged to finish strong, you did. When the pandemic changed your world, you changed me with what you did — you showed me the strength of youth in action.”
Degrees were awarded to 1,335 women and men who came to Tennessee Tech from 78 counties throughout Tennessee, 28 states and 20 other countries. Those earning undergraduate degrees represented 42 fields of study, while those earning graduate degrees represented 20 fields of study. The birth dates of the graduates ranged from 1949 to 2001. There were 12 graduates who received their commission as second lieutenants in the armed forces and two of those, Samuel Hester and Zachary Plattner, are distinguished military graduates.
“You are set to get a great return on investment because you have what the world wants and desperately needs: talent and tenacity,” said Oldham. “You have clearly demonstrated those high value characteristics that are embodied within the degree you received today.”