Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell speaks to Middle Tennessee State University graduates Dec. 15, 2012, during a commencement ceremony held at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU News)
The newest alumni of Middle Tennessee State University now have something that 67 percent of their fellow Tennessee residents lack, state House Speaker Beth Harwell said Saturday.
Only 33 percent of Tennesseans possess a college degree, Harwell told students who graduated during the fall 2012 morning commencement.
“After this ceremony, you will be head and shoulders above far too many of your fellow Tennesseans. … You really have achieved something today, so savor it,” Harwell said.
She then offered the new graduates four suggestions for success.
“Be humble,” said Harwell, who is currently serving her 12th term in the Tennessee House of Representatives. “Be different in not being showy. There is a certain grace that comes with humility. Don’t go into debt. … Our current fiscal crisis in this nation is a result of living beyond our means. It’s OK to admit we have financial limits.
Be thankful for what you have, and be generous with it. And meet the challenging moments of life head-on and persevere.”
One of the nation’s most recent challenges was obviously on the minds of many inside the Murphy Center.
Provost Brad Bartel asked for a moment of silence at the beginning of the ceremony to honor the victims and survivors of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
As happy as she was on this joyous occasion, 23-year-old Kara Elizabeth Daniel, of Memphis, also remembered the victims of the Shady Hook Elementary School tragedy, which occurred Friday morning.
Teachers at the primary school, which served kindergarten through fourth grades, are being praised for saving students in the chaos that ultimately claimed 28 lives, including 20 children.
“It’s very, very sad,” said Daniel, who received a Bachelor of Science in education. “My heart is broken over it. It’s so upsetting.”
The early childhood education major sported a big red apple on her mortarboard alongside the words, “Education is the mother of leadership,” a quote from former presidential candidate Wendell Willkie.
“I just love how many kids in life I will be able to touch … and may be able to be that person who could make that big difference in someone’s life,” Daniel said, adding that she wants to obtain a teaching job and earn her master’s degree while teaching.
She’s now qualified to teach children up to third grade.
“When I was closing in on what specific age group I wanted to teach, I knew that I would like to teach the younger kids,” she said.
Chris Buttrey received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences during the afternoon ceremony.
“Being an older student, graduating is big for my family and me,” said Buttrey, who was following in the footsteps of his father, Harold Buttrey, who graduated from MTSU in 1972.
“He’s very proud,” Christ Buttrey said.
The Fairview native said he's been working two jobs, one in loss prevention and one in retail, while attending college.
“It took me three years, from start to finish to graduate,” he said, adding that he averaged about 19 credit hours per semester.
Psychology major Charly Baltzer, of Franklin, graduated with honors with a 3.749 grade point average from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences.
She said graduating gives her “freedom,” noting the day for her was “overwhelming.”
“It was hard work,” Baltzer said of her achievement.
The three graduates were among the 1,960 students who received degrees during the fall 2012 commencement ceremonies.
Mark Emkes, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, told the afternoon graduates that integrity, caring, leadership and determination will always be the keys to their success.
“Regardless of your field of study, you will all be leaders,” said Emkes, who is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. “It took me a few years to realize it … but life isn’t all that complicated. You need integrity. Integrity is about doing what you say you’re going to do … and respecting all people. We have complete control over our character, values and integrity.
Leadership is about creating the right environment so people will want to help you get things done. Leaders hold people up; they don’t hold people down.”
Candidates from the College of Graduate Studies, Basic and Applied Sciences, Jennings A. Jones College of Business and the College of Education received their degrees in the morning ceremony.
Degrees were conferred on candidates in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Mass Communication and the University College in the afternoon.