MTSU "Agents of Change"

May 05, 2024 at 02:21 pm by WGNS


Murfreesboro, TN - Middle Tennessee State University spring graduate Izzy Gutierrez of Nashville is already putting the skills she learned in class and as a student worker to use in her first full-time job as a social/creative manager at Nashville-based Venture Music.

One of the newest alumni from the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in the College of Media and Entertainment, Gutierrez was among the 2,439 graduates celebrated over three ceremonies Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, at MTSU’s spring commencement ceremonies inside Murphy Center.


"I couldn't be more thankful for my time at MTSU. From the professors, students, staff and opportunities — I've gained experience in my field that I will cherish forever," Gutierrez said. "I didn't know what being a 'hard worker' truly meant until I attended MTSU. It's the dedication you put into what you love. During my time at MTSU, I took upon every challenge with the willingness to learn, knowing I may fail." 

That resonates with Recording Industry alumnus and Saturday afternoon keynote speaker Michael Hardy, who performs professionally as HARDY and shared deeply personal keynote remarks to Gutierrez and her fellow graduates from the College of Media and Entertainment as well as grads from the Jones College of Business and College of Education. On Friday, graduates of the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and College of Liberal Arts heard from alumnus and Franklin County Schools Director Cary Holman while state Rep. Bob Freeman shared advice Saturday morning with graduates of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and University College.

Hardy, who at age 33 is believed to be the university’s youngest alumnus to return as a commencement speaker, told graduates “not to be afraid to say yes” when opportunities arise, recounting an opportunity he had several years ago as a young songwriter to collaborate with an up and coming young artist — an artist that would lead to his first No. 1 hit, a record deal, national tours and subsequent No. 1’s opening the door to his career as an artist.

“There is a very big chance that none of that would have happened if I had not said yes to my friend Morgan Wallen back in 2016,” he said. “My point is this: Don’t be afraid to say yes to an opportunity just because you don’t think you will see an immediate result. You never know where your successes will come from. … Take a chance on yourself.”

Guiterrez seized her MTSU opportunities, as a freshman joining the Student Voice team in the Marketing and Communications Division where she covered events like commencement, the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival, the Grand Ole Opry and Blue Raider football and basketball games. She helped grow the university’s social media channels, including more than 1.8 million views on a single reel she created for Instagram, and would go on to win multiple awards, including a Tennessee Association of Broadcasting first place award and a Telly Award for her work with The Judds Final Concert held at the historic Murphy Center.

But Hardy also cautioned graduates not to let their drive for professional success consume their lives to the point where they neglect their loved ones and even themselves trying to be too much of a people pleaser — a track that led him to an emotional breakdown within the past year, causing him to reprioritize things in his life. And that’s when you need the self-awareness “to never be afraid to say no.”

“Stand up for yourself when the time comes, and if your gut is ever telling you to stand up for yourself, go with your gut every single time,” he said. “And when you do that, you gain pride, and when you gain pride you gain self-confidence, and self-confidence is fuel for success.”

In welcoming remarks at each ceremony, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee expressed pride in MTSU being “Tennessee’s University of Opportunities,” providing pathways to success to first-generation college students and being a top workforce provider to the Greater Nashville area.

“For more than a century, so many people have come here to find purpose and direction, and to change the trajectory of their lives for the better,” McPhee said. “And by living up to this brand, we also lift up the economy and quality of life in our region and state. I am proud that more than 70% of our graduates remain in the great state of Tennessee, building lives, opening businesses, starting families, and contributing to their communities.”

Of the 2,439 graduates celebrated at the three commencement ceremonies, 2,036 were undergraduates and 403 were graduate students, including 366 master’s and 21 education-specialist recipients and 16 doctoral degree-holders. In addition, 29 graduate students received graduate certificates.

With the spring 2024 commencement ceremonies, MTSU has awarded more than 185,491 degrees to its students, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degrees, since its 1911 founding as it completes its 113th academic year this summer.

MTSU is committed to developing a community devoted to learning, growth and service. We hold these values dear, and there’s a simple phrase that conveys them: “I am True Blue.” Learn more at For MTSU news anytime, visit

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