The graduates were hailed with cheers and applause from the audience and were challenged in an upbeat, value-filled commencement address by Cookeville business leader Paul Ramsey, who urged the university's newest alumni to chart out a course in life that leads them toward their destiny.
"Destiny as we are using it means life has purpose," Ramsey said. "My challenge to each of you as graduates is to discover that purpose, move toward that destiny. Set your compass, your determination and your talents to discover that purpose of life."
The pursuit of destiny, Ramsey said, "offers a path that blends the best of two kinds of leaders prevalent in the business world: the conformist who works within the system and the nonconformist who challenges it.
"Destiny allows us to discover our true person, the realization of that for which we were born," Ramsey said. He noted that individuals who strive toward destiny rise above pitfalls that ensnare people who chase success. "Destiny preserves us from praise, flattery and pride, as well as preserving us from blame, accusation and 'politics' Q those things can destroy you." And destiny, he added, "allows us to live by clear principles. The principles, strongly held, make you your own person. You are a leader. You know where you are headed. You know what needs to be done and how to do it."
Like many in the audience he addressed, Ramsey is a Tennessee Tech alumnus who overcame poverty to achieve his education and find success and fulfillment in life. His path has included founding and leading a number of Cookeville businesses, including Southern Rental Uniform Inc.; Prewash Limited Inc.; real estate holding company RAH Inc.; and Aquatech Inc., which employed 1,500 employees, four facilities and had annual sales of $50 million under his leadership. Today Ramsey is president of King Services-I, a food services company with diversified holdings, and he serves as a board member on several area companies. His wife, Sarah, and the couple's three children all studied at Tennessee Tech.
Saturday's commencement exercises brought the number of Tennessee Tech graduates since 1915 to more than 43,000. Tennessee Tech's newest alumni represented 41 undergraduate and 16 graduate fields and hailed from 76 Tennessee counties, 14 other states and seven foreign countries.
Among the graduates were two individuals receiving their doctorates in engineering: Jin Ge, whose major professor was P.K. Rajan of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Jianyuan Yang, whose major professor was Sam Han of Mechanical Engineering. Both received strong rounds of applause.
Two students were recognized with the W.A. Howard Award for attaining perfect 4.0 averages: Timothy Griffin of Hendersonville, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering; and Casey Narrie of Cookeville, who majored in biochemistry. Her father, David Narrie, professor of Agriculture and president of the Faculty Senate, served as marshal for the ceremonies. Rev. Woodward Adams of First United Methodist Church provided the invocation and benediction.
Tennessee Tech President Angelo Volpe recognized four employees retiring after years of distinguished service: Mechanical Engineering Professor Cemil Bagci, who joined Tennessee Tech in 1967; Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Homer Powell, who joined the university in 1982; Safety and Security Interim Director Alex Robinson Jr., who began work at TTU in 1976; and Health and Physical Education Chairperson Flavious Smith, who joined in 1962.
The president also led the audience in honoring this year's recipients of the Outstanding Faculty Awards as they were presented engraved plaques. Barbara Jackson, professor of Chemistry, and Kenneth Purdy, professor of Mechanical Engineering, were recognized for teaching. Donald Weinrach, professor of economics, finance and marketing, was honored for professional service.
Earlier in the day, four military science students in the graduating class received commissions in the U.S. Army, including Warren C. Fisher of Cookeville, who was honored as a 1996 Distinguished Military Graduate. Fisher was named a second lieutenant with a branch of infantry in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Saturday's commencement ceremonies featured a very special gathering of university alumni. A dozen or more members of the Class of 1946 attended, commemorating the 50th anniversary of their own graduation from the university. In introducing the "golden grads," President Volpe traced the war-time events that colored their time at the university and the challenges they overcame to earn their degrees. The audience showered them with applause.