Published Saturday Dec 15, 2018
Tennessee Tech displayed a unique body of Fall graduates during two commencement services on Saturday.
The 1,106 women and men who had their degrees conferred represented 73 counties throughout Tennessee, 24 states, and 28 other countries. Those earning undergraduate degrees represented 38 fields of study, and those receiving graduate degrees represented 25 fields of study.
Among those earning a degree was 86-year-old George F. Dettwiller.
“In today’s graduating class, birth dates of our students range from 1932 to 1999, evidence that an education at Tennessee Tech can be for everyone, regardless of his or her age,” said Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. “You’ve shown tenacity and understanding while earning an education that promises to transform your lives.”
Tenacity was certainly displayed by the commencement speaker for both ceremonies. Sarah J. Cripps, a 1994 Tech graduate, was born without any vision and with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
“Because of the advances in modern medicine and improved nutrition, many of you can expect to live well into your nineties and even beyond your centenary,” said Cripps. “It is essential, therefore, that your lives be meaningful to you and of benefit to others and that you continually enrich your lives through learning, through altruism, and through your experiences.”
Cripps attended public school in DeKalb County and was the first totally blind student to have been mainstreamed in Tennessee public school system throughout the entirety of her secondary school career. She returned to her alma mater as the commencement speaker where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a 4.0 grade point average and received the university’s highest honor, the Derryberry Award.
“During your time at this university, you have become adept at knowing how to conduct research to obtain information you require and knowing how properly to analyze and evaluate the data you locate and uncover during your researches,” said Cripps. “These skills will prove vital to you in the years ahead, regardless of the career path you have chosen. Why? Because greater knowledge results in superior and more informed decision-making.”
One of the graduates, Hannah Willis, could relate to Cripps. Willis, who earned a degree in education, is totally blind and was on hand to hear Cripps speak while participating in graduation ceremonies.
“It’s really inspiring when you find someone who does succeed through adversity,” said Willis. “For those of us who do have disabilities, it gives us a lot of hope and it encourages us. I am glad that she is my commencement speaker.”
The morning ceremony recognized graduates of the colleges of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. The afternoon ceremony included graduates of the colleges of Agriculture & Human Ecology, Business, Education, and Fine Arts.
“You will have a degree from a university that was recently named Number One among public universities in Tennessee. You are set to get a great return on investment,” said Oldham. “There’s one thing that gives me more excitement than being able to return to my office on Monday — it is knowing that on Monday you all will be Tech alumni. My experience is your experience; Thank you for making it awesome.”