Bowers informed graduates that only about 24 percent of Americans over the age 25 have a college education; less than 20 percent of citizens across the state as well as in Putnam County hold degrees. For in-state students, Tennessee taxpayers have provided 60 percent or more of their college costs.
"My point is that the rite of passage we celebrate here today places you in an elite group," Bowers told graduates. "I hope you will come to accept that these factors impose a certain responsibility, even obligation."
Bowers, a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents since 1999, placed two challenges before the graduates: getting involved in community service and giving back to higher education, particularly through Tennessee Tech.
"'But what's in it for me?' you might say," said Bowers. "Well, one thing is for certain — you can never be a leader unless you first get involved.
"And never forget the old Alaskan saying, 'If you're not the lead dog on the sled, the view never changes.'"
Bowers praised Tennessee Tech for leading the TBR in many performance categories and urged the new alumni to remember that the universities will increasingly depend on private sources of funding.
"In the coming years, Tech will need your support if it is to maintain that ability to transform lives as well as improve the economy and quality of life in this state and region," he urged. "There appears to be no realistic prospect for relief in the coming years. I'll hope you include Tennessee Tech in your future giving … to help ensure that future generations of Tech students have the same opportunities."
A former vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp., Bowers told the audience he had 30 years in government energy-related facilities in Oak Ridge and had observed Tech graduates in the workplace.
"I have seen your technical and scientific graduates working alongside colleagues from many of the nation's elite institutions," said Bowers. "You don't have to take a backseat to anyone."
During commencement exercises, TTU President Bob Bell recognized three special guests in attendance — Chief Warrant Officer Jerry Robbins, Sgt. First Class David Swallows and Lt. Col. Bobby Winningham — who were all home on leave from their duties in Iraq with the 278th Regimental Combat Team’s 3rd Squadron. These fathers of TTU students were granted leave from duty to be with their children — Jason Dale Robbins, Letha Ann Swallows and Kristy Diane Winningham — at commencement.
Four students received their commissions as Second Lieutenants prior to commencement and accepted bachelor's degrees during the ceremonies. They were Jeffery C. Ashburn, Matthew D. Carboni, Clinton D. Heath, and Emily E. Roettger.
Students graduating this spring hail from 21 states including Tennessee, 77 Tennessee counties and 11 foreign countries. They represent 41 undergraduate fields of study and 20 graduate fields. Following spring commencement, Tennessee Tech will have granted more than 56,000 degrees.