COOKEVILLE – From president Phil Oldham taking a selfie from the podium, to speaker Rhedona Rose giving $100 to a student, Tennessee Tech’s graduating class of 2019 enjoyed a few surprises during commencement services on Saturday.
“My experience as president is forever linked to your time here and what you gave to this place,” said Oldham. “We’ve faced a lot of change together to shape Tennessee Tech Tomorrow.”
More than 1,450 degrees were awarded to women and men who came to Tech from 81 counties throughout Tennessee, 21 states, and 25 other countries. Those earning undergraduate degrees represent 42 fields of study, and those receiving graduate degrees represent 25 fields of study.
The birth dates of students from the class of 2019 ranged from 1945 to 2000, evidence that an education at Tech can be for everyone, regardless of age.
“You, the Spring class of 2019, are a unique body of graduates,” said Oldham. “No other graduating class has exactly the same characteristics or the same future as you do. We know you will make us very proud as Golden Eagle alums.”
Rose, who graduated from Tech in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, had a message that resonated with the new Tech graduates. The chief administrative officer and executive vice president of Tennessee Farm Bureau and a member of the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees, Rose encouraged students to use three words as their mantra going forward: unique, tough and thankful.
“Life will be different without a teacher’s guidance, constant feedback or positive reinforcement,” said Rose. “You may think it will be a relief to no longer worry about grades, but you will find after six months or five years, you will long for some input as you wonder, how am I doing? Your gauge of success is pretty vague.”
To illustrate a point about how life is full of surprises, Rose hid a $100 bill under a chair before the ceremonies began. A lucky student was a recipient of Rose’s charity – for a while.
“When I graduated, $100 would purchase a nice interview outfit,” said Rose. “I hope for you, it will at least buy a pair of shoes.”
To illustrate a point on how life can be tough and unfair, Rose then asked the student to give the $100 to a student sitting behind him. He did.
“Sorry, but sometimes the person calling the shots picks someone else for the recognition, the raise or the promotion,” said Rose. “Their decision may be good for you or it may be bad. Sometimes it will help you and sometimes it will do the opposite.”
Rose later rewarded the initial student with another $100 when he came across the stage to receive his diploma. She also turned the three words around to illustrate her final point.
“The three words backward are thankful, tough and unique – TTU. When you walk out that door today you will forever more be a graduate of Tennessee Tech University,” said Rose. “I pray you are proud of your accomplishment and, as a TTU Eagle, you will always be: thankful, tough and unique.”
Oldham echoed those sentiments before taking the first presidential selfie at a Tech commencement service.
“Your time here during the growth of campus is an investment in your future. As Tech’s stature and reputation grow, so does the value of your degree. Your patience will be rewarded,” said Oldham. “You’ve shown tenacity and understanding while earning an education that promises to transform your lives. You are set to get a great return on investment.”
Tech had 10 students commissioned to serve in the armed forces as second lieutenants: Eliezer Gonzalez, Luke A. Hornby, Jessica L. Long, Harrison C. Scott, all of Cookeville; Daniel F. McGee of Lynchburg, Adam T. Neff of Allons, Jeremy P. Penick of Clifton, Caleb E. Stuber of Etowah, Luke I. Turney of Woodbury, and Andrew R. Whittenbarger of Kingston.