The speaker was Dr. Mary Martin, the 2016-17 president of the university's Faculty Senate and a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. She shared simple, but profound advice--"Don't stop learning".
Dr. Martin, who's been teaching courses ranging from college algebra and calculus to topology and module theory at MTSU since 1998, told the new graduates a "fairy tale" of a talisman presented to a grumpy young girl who must learn how her smallest actions can affect others.
"From needing an attitude adjustment to being blindsided by unexpected disasters, we will all have issues to face," Martin said. "You must build your own life, correct your own mistakes and find your own way. To do that effectively, you need to learn from books, from other people, from examples and from your own experiences. You must do this in order to live a meaningful life that fulfills your potential. You must do this to bring honor to your name, to your family and to your community.
"Whether you are here today as a graduate or as a staunch supporter of a graduate, please seek out knowledge, not just experiences, and design a life, starting today, that intentionally includes learning. Don't stop learning."
Summer graduate Michael Keeton of Huntsville, Tennessee, understands that instruction well. He's among the first students to benefit from a unique partnership developed between MTSU and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in 2015.
The partnership allows individuals to earn course credit and certifications through TDEC's Fleming Training Center in Murfreesboro, online and at other statewide locations. It also provides degree paths for both traditional age students preparing to enter the workforce for the first time and for adult learners who are already in the water and wastewater industries.
The 50-year-old Keeton took the nontraditional route to obtain his bachelor's degree in liberal studies Saturday through MTSU's University College, a state leader in adult degree completion programs.
Now a technical expert for the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, or TAUD, Keeton said he learned about the TDEC program at a TAUD conference a few years ago and contacted University College assistant dean Peggy Carpenter.
Once Keeton enrolled in a few core courses, Carpenter directed him to University College's prior learning assessment, which allowed him to earn roughly 50 credits toward his bachelor's degree based on his previous work experience and certifications.
"That really helped me save a lot of time and a lot of money ... and I was able to get my degree in about two and a half years," said Keeton, a 25-year veteran of the water industry. All classes were online except for two intensive, one-week courses that required him to come to campus in February and May to complete.
Also an assistant high school football coach, Keeton recalls the long days of juggling family, work, football practices and online classes, sometimes falling asleep at his laptop. Now with his bachelor's degree in hand, he said he feels it was all worth it.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It's a great sense of accomplishment and makes all the difference in the world career-wise. ... The job I have now, do I think it would have happened without the degree? Maybe. But with it, definitely."
Keeton said he hopes others who hear his story will think, "If he can do it, I can do it."
At Saturday's ceremony, the 791 students from all nine of MTSU's colleges -- Graduate Studies, Basic and Applied Sciences, Jones College of Business, Education, Behavioral and Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Media and Entertainment, the University College and the University Honors College -- comprised 574 undergraduates and 217 graduate students. The latter figure includes 189 master's degree recipients, 12 education-specialist degree recipients and 16 doctoral recipients, and one graduate student also received a graduate certificate.
An official program listing all the graduates is available at http://ow.ly/dfWk30bgTyW. You can see photos from the event at http://ow.ly/PH2j30emxuf.
While expressing his thanks to family, friends and other supporters of the new graduates, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee also noted the university's appreciation for the students and their dedication.
"You should bask in the glory that comes with this day," McPhee told the graduates. "Although you may feel this long journey is over, we here at MTSU feel that it's ... just the beginning of even greater things in your lives."
Graduation information for MTSU is available anytime at http://www.mtsunews.com/graduation-info.
The university's 2017-18 academic year begins Monday, Aug. 28, with the first official day of fall 2017 classes. University Convocation, a public ceremony welcoming new freshmen into the MTSU family, is set for Saturday, Aug. 26, at 5 p.m. in Murphy Center and will feature J.D. Vance, author of MTSU's Summer Reading Selection, "Hillbilly Elegy," as guest speaker.