Roaden, the university's president from 1974 to 1985, spoke to the 645 graduates at the fall commencement ceremony in Hooper Eblen Center on Saturday just prior to a ceremony to change the name of Tennessee Tech's University Center to "The Arliss L. Roaden University Center." He recalled stories, including personal ones, which emphasized the value of acknowledging good student-professor relationships.
"Saying 'thank you' to a teacher even years later helps both the person who says it and the person to whom it is said," said Roaden. "According to an old proverb, 'Flowers leave some of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them.'"
Calling it "one of the most emotionally moving stories that I have read in a very long time," Roaden led his audience through the story of Mitch Albom, the author of a recent best-selling book, Tuesdays with Morrie. It's the story of Albom's relationship with his favorite professor, Morrie Swartz, and the resolution of an unfulfilled promise to keep in touch with the professor after graduation.
"Sixteen years after graduation, Albom saw Morrie being interviewed by Ted Koppel on 'Nightline,'" Roaden explained. "Morrie was in a wheelchair dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease, and Morrie was upbeat, narrating his trip between life and death."
"Albom flew to see his professor; they embraced; and Morrie whispered to his former student, 'My old friend, you've come back at last,'" Roaden related. Each Tuesday for the next 14 weeks, until the professor's death, the student and teacher met, and Albom recorded the "special lessons" which constituted the substance of his book.
"As I reflect on the educational enterprise, it is that indescribable transaction between teacher and learner that sparks a real difference in the rest of our lives," Roaden said.
Roaden reminisced about his favorite professor, Orin Graff, and the lessons Graff taught him about life.
"His basic lesson for me was, 'Don't make a career decision based on money,'" Roaden said. "And his second lesson was, 'Take a job where you can make a difference.' Over the years, I have never made a career decision based on money, yet, I have never suffered for lack of basic essentials.
"There is something extra special about Tennessee Technological University," Roaden concluded. "This university has a rich history of dedicated, committed faculty members who love teaching, and they love their students."
Tennessee Tech officials returned the praise in an emotional ceremony following commencement when they unveiled the plaque marking the Arliss L. Roaden University Center. The building, which houses most of TTU's student services, has become the hub of student activity since it was built in 1971.
"It is with great pleasure that we honor, today, a man who has made many contributions to higher education in general and, more specifically, to Tennessee Technological University," said TTU President Angelo Volpe.
Roaden's career has been devoted solely to education. From 1962 to 1974, he was a member of the faculty at The Ohio State University and served as dean of the graduate school and vice provost for research in his final years there before being named president of TTU. In 1985, he was appointed executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, a post he would hold until his retirement in 1995.
During Roaden's 11 years as president of Tennessee Tech, the College of Business earned full accreditation, the school of nursing and MBA studies program were established. Three university professorships were created and the state approved the formation of four research centers of excellence. The Bryan Fine Arts building was proposed, approved and built, and the university also acquired the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Crafts.
"The Tennessee Tech family could think of no better way to honor this stalwart of an educational leader than to have his name enshrined on one of the most prominent, most visible, and most highly trafficked facility on campus," remarked Leo McGee, TTU's associate vice president for Academic Affairs and ceremony emcee. McGee, an administrator under Roaden at The Ohio State University, came to Tennessee Tech at his mentor's invitation.
Roaden continues to take a leadership role with a number of organizations, including Phi Delta Kappa International; the National Parent Teachers Association; the Institute for Educational Policy; Celebration of Education 2000; the National Center for Youth Issues; and STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand), a drug, alcohol and violence prevention program in schools.
Students graduating from Tennessee Tech this term represented 17 other states, 68 Tennessee counties and 16 foreign countries. Degrees were awarded in 40 undergraduate fields of study and 16 graduate fields.