TTU commencement speaker Charles Chitwood tells graduates to remain teachable

About 600 new graduates from Tennessee Tech University added commencement ceremonies to their list of holiday activities as they shared their accomplishments with family and friends on Saturday at Hooper Eblen Center.

Charles Chitwood, deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and a 1982 TTU physics graduate, returned to his alma mater to give the keynote address, in which he advised graduates to celebrate who they were yesterday, who they are today and who they will become tomorrow.

“Today is a day to celebrate! We celebrate this university, and we celebrate you, the graduates,” he said.

Chitwood told graduates that yesterday, as students, they understood the importance and necessity of a great education.

“Yesterday, you took on the task to become more self-aware and to develop new skills. Yesterday, you declared that you were not satisfied with simply being,” he said.

“Today, you are graduates. Today, you are better prepared to face challenges,” Chitwood continued. “Today, you are more aware of how to respond rather than react, how to help rather than hinder, and how to make a difference rather than sit by in indifference.”

He asked the graduates to consider how their lives tomorrow could best be celebrated, telling them that he’d discovered his own life is best celebrated by continuing to be a student — continuing to listen and learn from others.

“I thought the moment I received my college degree that wisdom automatically came along with it,” Chitwood said. “Little did I know that getting the diploma was not the end of my journey to gain knowledge, but it was the beginning.

“I discovered that smart people are successful by staying teachable. They seek knowledge,” he continued. “I discovered they collect pithy sayings to remind them that wisdom is not something we’re born with — it is something we acquire through triumph and tragedy.”

The most appropriate way to show gratitude for a good education, Chitwood said, is to seek to be teachable and to both be a teacher in someone else’s life and have one in your own.

“Studying for your college degree is an appropriately selfish and self-centered time in your life. If you are grateful for having received an education — which we should all remember is an envy of the vast majority of people in the world — how will you show your gratitude?” he said. “Seek a teacher, be a teacher, and be teachable.”

Prior to commencement, three students received their commissions as Second Lieutenants and earned bachelor’s degrees during the ceremonies. They are John L. Green, agriculture engineering technology; Joshua J. Tompkins, history; and Mark K. Tyree, interdisciplinary studies.

Students graduating from Tennessee Tech this fall hail from 16 states including Tennessee, 65 Tennessee counties and 11 foreign countries. They represent 37 undergraduate fields of study and 18 graduate fields.

Four doctor of philosophy degrees were also awarded, three in engineering and one in exceptional learning.

Following fall commencement, TTU will have granted more than 57,000 degrees.