Ezell Encourages Spring Grads to Heed the Words of Dr. Suess

An alumnus planning his future after retiring from a 37-year career, a 70-year old grandmother receiving her first college degree and hundreds of young people ready to start life after college gathered at Tennessee Technological University on Saturday to celebrate their graduation to new lives.

DeWitt Ezell, a 1960 Tennessee Tech graduate who retired as BellSouth of Tennessee's president last week, shared advice with the 806 graduates during spring commencement from a book his daughter gave him as a retirement present.

"We've all read books by Dr. Seuss, and my favorite is actually one of the last books he wrote because it's all about beginnings and big hopes," said Ezell. "The name of it is 'Oh, the Places You'll Go!'

"It's so fitting because the possibilities for your lives and mine are unlimited," he added.

Following the book's admonitions about "directions you choose" and "deciding where to go," Ezell gave graduates a list of issues affecting their choices and direction in life: following good plans, being dependable, helping others, accepting leadership, giving and having a spiritual foundation.

"Many times I have learned at the end of the day, I need more than just a good job and a paycheck to sustain me," he said. "I have found strength and help in a belief in something greater than myself."

For a conclusion, Ezell quoted Dr. Seuss' closing words, "You're off to great places; today is your day; your mountain is waiting; so, get on your way."

One graduate especially appreciating a speech based on a children's book was 70-year old Ruth Phipps, who received a bachelor of fine arts degree. Her senior exhibit featured paintings inspired by poems written by local children, and she plans to write and illustrate children's books.

"My grandkids would rather hear one of my stories than for me to read a story," Phipps said. "I was born in a time that children aren't aware of unless they hear these stories."

Encouraged by her youngest son, Phipps enrolled at Tennessee Tech shortly after the death of her daughter, Patty. Phipps' devoted much of her life to her special needs daughter and others in the community and helped establish Pacesetters more than 25 years ago. Today, Pacesetters is one of the largest community-based training and residential programs in the state for special needs adults.

Phipps is only a few hours shy of a second bachelor's degree in sociology, which she plans to finish after taking time off to work on her children's books.

"I'm kind of proud that I might be the first one at Tech to graduate at 70," Phipps said. "After a year, if I'm still granted the blessing of life, I'll go get those other hours."

Students graduating from Tennessee Tech this term represented 14 other states, 72 Tennessee counties and eight foreign countries. Degrees were awarded in 36 undergraduate fields of study and 16 graduate fields.