State Board of Education director tells TTU graduates to imagine new ways of working in the future

“You and your generation will have opportunities to change and improve this world in ways that have not yet been imagined.”

That’s the message Gary L. Nixon, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, delivered to more than 600 Tennessee Tech University graduates and their friends and family during Saturday’s commencement exercises at the Hooper Eblen Center.

A three-time graduate of TTU, Nixon began his career as a chemistry and physics teacher at Cumberland County High School in 1971 and later served for 16 years as principal of the school. In 2000, he opened and served as the inaugural principal for Rutherford County’s new Blackman High School before assuming his current position.

“Being here today has caused me to think back to my own graduation and how this institution helped me grow professionally. I had goals, much in the same way that you have goals today,” he said.

“As time passed, however, my goals shifted and became refined. My goals today are only vaguely linked to the degree I earned so many years ago,” Nixon continued.

Because of the exponential growth in technology that is expected in the 21st century, he said, that situation may apply to an even greater extent for today’s college graduates.

“The reality is that today, and in the days to come, jobs will be imagined, developed, reinvented, eliminated and re-imagined. Most likely, each of you will go through that process and will retire from a job that has not yet been invented,” he said.

Even if the jobs have been invented, the way professionals will carry out their day-to-day activities will likely change radically in the future. Nixon cited the management philosophy of Best Buy, the nation’s leading electronics retailer, as an example of that change.

"There are no schedules, no mandatory meetings. . . Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do,” Nixon said.
Best Buy’s philosophy — defined as a ‘results-only work environment’ — “seeks to demolish decades old business practices that equates physical presence with productivity,” he continued. “The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours, and guess what happened? Production increased 35 percent."

Nixon advised graduates to think beyond any type of geographical boundary and focus instead on working globally.

“We can work with others without the constraints of time or place. We can do business with people in Berlin, Beijing or Buenos Aries,” he said. “It seems that Athens, Tenn., and Athens, Greece, are not so far apart after all.”

Regardless of the careers recent graduates will make for themselves, Nixon said, he advised them to never feel too secure in their individual situations.

“It’s best that you not get too secure in your present situation because it will change,” he said. “I hold the view that security is closely linked to complacency, and that complacency leads quickly to the death of ingenuity. Good surely is the enemy of great.”
But the world Nixon said he sees is neither secure nor complacent.

“The economy of both today and tomorrow is built for those willing to shake off the ideas of the past and embrace change from any angle,” he said.

Knowledge of technology is the surest way to gain power in our current economic environment, he continued.

“You came to this university four, or maybe more, years ago intent on finding knowledge. You have done so, and I say to you congratulations. However, I’m sure you have come to the realization that you have only scratched the surface,” Nixon said.

“Tennessee Tech prepared you to ask new and exciting questions and challenges you to work diligently to find new solutions. It is what you choose to do with your new skills that determines your perceptions of what it means to be successful in life, work, faith and family,” he continued.

“Go forth and pursue your next destination,” Nixon concluded.

About 610 students graduated on Saturday. They hail from 43 states including Tennessee, 68 Tennessee counties and 81 foreign countries. They represented 38 undergraduate fields of study and 17 graduate fields.

TTU has granted more than 58,000 degrees.

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