Martin first enrolled at Tennessee Tech University in 1969 but left to get married. After she and her husband, James, had their first daughter, she tried to come back to TTU but the pair had another child 19 months later. She left the university in 1976 without her degree.
After seeing all of her five children receive their degrees, the Knoxville resident returned and earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. All five of them will return to Tennessee, from as far away as Florida and Virginia, to watch their mother graduate.
“Now it’s really setting in on me, now that I have my cap and gown,” she said. “It’s been a learning experience. It’s been funny, it’s been exciting. The technology – I’m showing my age. I’d never done a PowerPoint before.”
Martin, born in 1952, was one of more than 1,200 students to walk across the stage at the Hooper Eblen Center Saturday at TTU. She was also one of the oldest – graduates’ ages ranged from 63 to 21.
“We have journeyed with these students through a time in their lives they will never forget and that has the potential for profound change – not just in their own lives, but in yours and ours for generations to come,” said TTU President Phil Oldham during the ceremonies.
Graduates, including Martin, from TTU’s Colleges of Agriculture and Human Ecology, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing walked across the stage Saturday morning, after hearing an address from Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education.
“I cannot think of anything meaningful I have done that was easy and calm and not in some way terribly frightening,” Huffman said. “You see, too often, we convince ourselves that we, alone, feel fear. That surely if we were stronger or better or more confident, we wouldn’t feel this fear.”
“I say to you today, the world is indeed your oyster,” he said. “But you better be prepared to grip that sucker hard and use every possible tool to pry it open. It isn’t going to magically open on its own.”
Those from the Colleges of Business and Education received their degrees in an afternoon ceremony, which was addressed by Gov. Bill Haslam. In his address, Haslam celebrated the contribution that each of the ceremony’s graduates are making to the state’s future. Each graduate, he said, is a vital part in the effort to, by 2025, have 55 percent of the state’s residents hold college degrees.
“Let me just start by telling the graduates, way to go. This is a big day. It doesn’t just feel like a big day, but it is a big day,” the governor said. “In graduating from a prestigious school like this, you are making a difference.”
Haslam advised the business and education graduates to be good listeners and lifelong learners. He urged them to be people of humility and grace, and to learn to live with disappointment.
“It’s a fact in life that your dreams will be broken as many times as they will be realized,” Haslam said. “It’s how you handle the disappointments that teaches you how to handle the victories.”
Across both ceremonies, TTU’s most recent graduates represented 77 counties in Tennessee, 31 states and 22 other countries. Their degrees were in 41 undergraduate fields and 22 graduate fields.