A TTU graduate himself, Cooley served as senior strategist during Governor Phil Bredesen’s successful gubernatorial campaign, and he served as chief of staff during Bredesen’s first term as mayor of Nashville.
The two most important characteristics for becoming an "impact player in the game of life" are service and passion, he said at spring commencement ceremonies held in TTU’s Hooper Eblen Center.
Although service comes in many different forms it is most simply defined as a "burning desire to help others and to make things better."
" Don’t forget that you need to give back more than you take from your community," Cooley said, encouraging graduates to consider running for public offices, and offering TTU graduate and State Rep. Les Winningham as an example.
He also advised graduates to properly direct their passion. "I’m talking about passion for life, passion for humor, for jobs, for education, for knowledge, passion for courage and passion for your fellow man," he said, adding that he feels passion is the key to a happy, healthy, productive life.
" I think you will agree that the people who most influence us in life and the people who have changed the world — either in their own small way or in a way that is bigger than life — are those people who have lived each day with great passion," he said.
While it is easy for people to be passionate about the positive aspects of their lives — like personal and professional relationships — it is also important for people to recognize the ability to use passion to overcome failure.
" Be passionate about your failings," Cooley said. "To succeed, we must risk failure. Don’t live in fear of failure, but always strive to succeed again. I’ll tell you, my greatest lessons have come from failure."
One such example he provided was a mid-term examination for a physics class he had with Mark Burnett, now TTU’s vice president of Student Affairs. "We opted to have too much fun the night before our physics mid-term and consequently paid the price," he said. "For the record, I made a 17 out of 100, and Mark excelled with a 19."
Cooley acknowledged the commitment of his former instructors and other faculty and staff members to the "lofty mission of higher education."
" Today is yet another example of how your mission has made such a difference in the lives of individuals and our society as a whole," he said.
He applauded parents and family members for being "the backbone" of each graduate’s achievement, and he instructed graduates to be proud of the day of recognition they have earned.
" Those of you walking across the stage today are taking your first steps on the path to a more rewarding quality of life," he said. "It is a day that lifts the human spirit of everyone involved."
Prior to commencement, the university ROTC Battalion held its spring commissioning ceremony. Earning commissions as second lieutenants were Thomas Eric Bishop, industrial engineering; Joe L. Cloyd, interdisciplinary studies; Timothy A. Haeberle, sociology and criminal justice; Jonathan E. Melton, political science; Jason M. Musgrove, electrical engineering; Esperanza D. Rodriguez, interdisciplinary studies; Heidi E. Sanders, finance; Johnny W. Sanders, history; and Daniel K. Shires, history and foreign language.
During the spring commencement, degrees were awarded in 39 undergraduate fields of study and 17 graduate fields. Students graduating from TTU this semester represented 79 Tennessee counties, 19 other states and 13 foreign countries.
More than 27,650 degrees have been awarded to TTU graduates since 1986.