858 New Blue Raider Alumni Created Saturday

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Director of MTSU’s Leisure, Sport and Tourism Studies Program Joey Gray. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)
(L-R) Prof. Joey Gray, new Ph. D. Rita Whitaker, and MTSU Associate Vice Provost Laurie Witherow. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)
MTSU graduates smile as they stand in line during the commencement ceremony. (MTSU photo by GradImages)
A personalized mortarboard at Saturday's commencement ceremony. (MTSU photo by GradImages)
A newly minted MTSU graduate smiles with satisfaction as she sits back down after accepting her degree at the university’s summer 2018 commencement ceremony in Murphy Center. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)​
(MURFREESBORO) One of MTSU's award-winning professors is confident that the university's newest 858 graduates can overcome almost any challenge to reach their goals, thrive and help others if they "keep moving forward."
Addressing the summer Class of 2018 graduates in Murphy Center, professor Joey Gray told the students and their supporters that she was a child mocked by her classmates for having to announce every day that she received a "free lunch," an aspiring graduate student told that she couldn't retake the grad-school entrance exam to boost her score, and a doctoral degree candidate told by a prospective program that she "wasn't the kind of student they were looking for."
Now director of MTSU's Leisure, Sport and Tourism Studies Program, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, and the outgoing president of the university's Faculty Senate, Gray self-deprecatingly used what she called her "alter ego, Dory, the fish from 'Finding Nemo,'" to encourage the new graduates to "keep moving forward."
Gray said she had seven job interviews and a Trustees' Teaching Award from Indiana University by the time she earned her doctorate. She accepted MTSU's offer in 2006 and has built a life in Tennessee that includes her career as a beloved student mentor and leader among her colleagues, receiving the university's 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award in part as thanks for her efforts.
The professor noted, "Like many of you all, I come from humble beginnings. Bbut the one thing I had was determination. When somebody told me I couldn't do something, I found a way to do it. It doesn't matter where you started. What matters is what you do and the mark you leave on the earth."
"Don't let people tell you what you can do. Keep moving forward. ... You'll encounter some jerks along the way. Rise above them. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who complement both."
University Honors College Transfer Fellow Natalie Foulks of Knoxville, Tennessee, mirrors that determination with her perfect 4.0 GPA. Foulks, who earned her bachelor's degree summa cum laude in speech-language pathology and audiology, said she looked forward to "walking across the stage with all (16) of the girls in my major. We've all gotten close."
"It's a way to celebrate all my hard work with friends and family at the end of this journey," added Foulks, who heads to graduate school at East Tennessee State University in two weeks. "It's bittersweet. I hate to leave MTSU, but I'm excited to see what's next."
The university Registrar's Office reported that 858 students, including 646 undergraduates and 212 graduate students, from all nine of MTSU's colleges -- Graduate Studies, Basic and Applied Sciences, the Jones College of Business, Education, Behavioral and Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Media and Entertainment, the University College and the Honors College -- accepted their degrees in the Aug. 11 event. The graduate recipients included 171 master's degrees, 25 education-specialist degrees and 16 doctoral degrees.
An official program listing all the graduates is available at http://ow.ly/cmkP30ld2uT.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told the crowd that if these grads follow the longstanding pattern, most of the new alumni can be expected to remain in Tennessee.
"With an economic impact totaling more than $1.2 billion annually, MTSU creates more than $400 million in wages and salaries and 8,300 jobs, and ... upon completing their degrees, almost 80 percent of our graduates remain in Tennessee, helping build, and better, our quality of life," McPhee said of the university.
"Indeed, this institution and our graduates fuel much of the prosperity we enjoy in our region and state. As proud as I am of all that we represent at this university, I am even more proud to shake the hands of these exceptional students and confer the degrees that they have earned."
MTSU graduation information is available anytime at http://www.mtsunews.com/graduation-info.
The university's 2018-19 academic year begins on Monday, August 27, 2018, with the first official day of fall 2018 classes. University Convocation, a public ceremony welcoming new freshmen into the MTSU family, is set for Saturday, August 25, 2018, at 5:00PM in Murphy Center and will feature Bryan Stevenson, author of MTSU's Summer Reading Selection, "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption".

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