State insurance commissioner encourages TTU grads to look for signs of opportunity

Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers assured Tennessee Tech University graduates and their families that her path to success as an engineer, lawyer and public servant was not planned, but a result of opportunities taken.

Flowers, a native of Monterey and a 1990 TTU chemical engineering graduate, spoke to more than 360 graduates, family and friends in Hooper Eblen Center on Saturday. Appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, she explained her career plans never included seeking a political appointment.

“Many people have asked me ‘How did you get into politics?,’” said Flowers. “I tell them I’m not in politics, I’m in public service. I didn’t know the Governor, and had never worked with him. I just wanted to serve the State of Tennessee so I laid my qualifications on the table. And my degree from Tennessee Tech helped to fit the bill.”

Flowers encouraged graduates to watch for signs of opportunity, whether they called them twists of fate, divine intervention or just dumb luck. She explained that subtle changes in her course, due to unforeseen opportunities, had made all the difference in her life. Those opportunities began with a casual conversation on an airplane that led to a graduate research assistantship.

“An opportunity presented itself out of nowhere, and that graduate degree gave me an advantage in the engineering job market,” she said. “Later, that engineering position led me to become a lawyer. My legal experience allowed me the wonderful opportunity I have now, working with Gov. Bredesen to implement his vision for the state.”

She cautioned her audience not to think she was oversimplifying the message.

“You’re thinking, she sounds like Forrest Gump talking about how ‘life is like a box of chocolates,’” she said. “And maybe I do — but, unlike Tom Hanks, at least my Southern accent is real.

“No matter how prepared you are — or unprepared you are — to go down the particular path you’ve chosen for yourself, always watch for, and be open to, opportunities of something unexpected, something wonderful, something available to you if you change course,” she concluded.

Prior to commencement, the university ROTC Battalion held its fall commissioning ceremony. Christopher Eric Batchelor, Richard Cory Bedwell, Esperanza D. Rodriguez and Elizabeth House Varner received their commissions as second lieutenants and later in the day received their bachelor's degrees. During commencement, 129 students received graduate degrees and 38 received specialist in education degrees.

Four students received doctor of philosophy degrees at the ceremony, Kimberly Moffett and Kristen Pennycuff were named doctors in education, Shiwei Zhang in engineering, and Jeffrey Norman in environmental science.

Students graduating from Tennessee Tech this term represented 10 states, 60 Tennessee counties and five foreign countries. Degrees were awarded in 30 undergraduate fields of study and 15 graduate fields.

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