Published: Mon May 9, 2011Dozens of bedazzled and decorated mortarboards sparkled as 1,274 students received their degrees Saturday from Tennessee Tech University in two ceremonies, each with its own speaker.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black at the first ceremony spoke before graduates of the Colleges of Agricultural and Human Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Interdisciplinary Studies and their families.
Rep. Ryan Williams addressed the families and graduates of the Colleges of Business and Education.
Both freshman politicians spoke of the challenges and opportunities that stretch before the seniors of the class of 2011.
"The full value of your education will reveal itself in the years ahead," Black, who was last year elected to represent the state's 6th Congressional district, said. "TTU has placed the keys of opportunity and knowledge in your hands, and I know that even though you might not be able to see all the doors it will unlock now, they will be revealed in the fullness of time."
Williams, who joined the state House of Representatives in 2010, related an African proverb about a gazelle and a lion, two animals that must be the fastest animal on the plain to survive.
"The moral of the story for you, the gazelle and the lion is that when the sun rises tomorrow you all will be running," the Cookeville resident said. "So run to win because today is a testament to your speed and agility."
Increasing enrollments made the switch to two commencement ceremonies necessary, as the number of graduates and their guests have come to exceed the capacity of TTU's Hooper Eblen Center. As students walked across the stage to receive their degrees, excited friends and family members in the packed arena cheered, clapped, whistled and even, in a few cases, rang cow bells and blew air horns.
Before her election to the House of Representatives, Black was a small business owner, an educator and a registered nurse. She was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1998, moving to the state Senate in 2004. There, she was the first woman in the state to be elected to serve as chairperson of the Senate Republican Caucus. The Gallatin resident is one of only two freshman senators to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Williams in 1996 became the first member of his family to graduate from college. Upon graduating, he took a sales job for a rug company, working his way up to own part of the business. In 1999, he sold it and moved to Cookeville, where he is the director of J&S Construction Co. and served on the city council for one term. While on the city council, he helped select a plot of land for the K-8 Prescott school that was within budget and allowed for better school traffic distribution.
Williams also served as the council's representative to the Planning Commission and in that role was an advocate for more stringent standards in landscape buffering between commercial and residential property. He also spearheaded the organization of an Architectural Review Board and developed a new architectural standard for all commercial and multi-family properties. Ryan's support of the Cookeville Regional Medical Center staff and board has facilitated the growth of one of our community's greatest employers and assets.
Following these ceremonies, TTU will have granted more than 70,000 degrees. Students graduating this spring hail from 32 states including Tennessee, 78 Tennessee counties and 14 foreign countries. They represent 41 undergraduate and 22 graduate programs. The oldest graduate was born in 1947 and the youngest in 1990.