While congratulating 1,271 graduates as the newest Tennessee Tech University alumni at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies, the university also honored its two favorite astronauts and distinguished alumni with TTU’s first honorary doctorates.
Presiding over his final commencements, TTU President Bob Bell presented an honorary doctorate in science to scientist and astronaut Roger Crouch and an honorary doctorate in engineering to U.S. Navy pilot and astronaut Capt. Barry Wilmore.
Before conferring the degrees upon Crouch and Wilmore, the TTU Brass Ensemble played "Fanfare for the Common Man," composted by Aaron Copland. Copland wrote the piece in 1943 for the common man who, after fighting n World War II, deserved a fanfare, Bell explained.
"We are most proud of these outstanding TTU alumni and their contributions to society, and I can't think of any two individuals who are better suited to receive this university's first honorary doctorates."
TTU has two spring commencement ceremonies, and Crouch and Wilmore received their doctorates during separate ceremonies. In all, Tennessee Tech awarded degrees to nearly 1,300 students in 41 areas of undergraduate study and 20 areas of graduate study. Ten individuals received doctoral degrees. Graduates represented 75 Tennessee counties, 31 states and 14 other countries.
Crouch encouraged the graduates at the morning ceremony to take responsibility for themselves and to be persistent when pursuing a goal.
"You are responsible for the world in which you live. It is not the responsibility of the government, the church, a social club or your fellow citizens, it's solely up to you," Crouch said. "If you want something to change, you personally have to do something different to bring about that change."
"If you think small things can't affect the quality of life, just recall a time when you were in bed and there was a mosquito or fly in the room."
The secret to making a difference, Crouch said, is to not be afraid to try new things.
"There may be many false starts and do-overs, but as long as you never quit, you are not a failure," Crouch said. "Some NASA folks are famous for saying, 'failure is not an option.' But in the case of Apollo 13, there were failures. What was not an option was quitting."
Crouch jokingly added that along with persistence, you must have flexibility. "You can never catch a fish in a pond with no fish," he said.
"For me, I wanted to be a fighter pilot and then eventually be an astronaut and go to the moon," said Crouch. "I am colorblind, so the regular pilot and astronaut routes were not available to me. But I kept trying, and when I was almost 56 years old and after nearly 35 years of rejections, I was selected to fly into space."
Crouch went on to log 471 hours in space. He spent four days on his first mission, which was cut short because of a fuel cell issue, then 16 days on his second mission.