MTSU’s newest graduates can be “game-changers” like George Washington and Jackie Robinson by using their education to accomplish good things for themselves, their families and for society, Murfreesboro’s mayor said Saturday.
And NBC’s vice president and Washington bureau chief said students can use ordinary, common-sense tools to turn their careers — and their lives — into something extraordinary.
Speaking to graduates in the morning ceremony for the university’s fall 2014 commencement, MTSU alumnus Shane McFarland explained that he, like many of the students, is a small-town native and the first in his family to go to college.
Joined by his twin brother at MTSU, McFarland earned an accounting degree in 1997 and served as student body president. He opened his own custom residential and commercial construction firm and has served on the Murfreesboro City Council since 2006. He was elected mayor earlier this year and described himself as a lifelong “sports buff.”
“I can honestly stand before you and tell you that MTSU has changed my life. It’s been a game-changer in my life,” McFarland said. “Graduating from this institution has not just changed me; it’s changed my family’s legacy.”
He cited moments in the lives of President George Washington, British abolitionist William Wilberforce, Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell and legendary athlete Jackie Robinson that changed history.
“We may never have a story like George Washington, like Jackie Robinson, like William Wilberforce, like Eric Liddell, but this can be a monumental day for your and for your family,” McFarland said.
“Here’s my hope for you. Today, I know, is a game-changer for many of you, but it doesn’t stop today. Continue finding those game-changing moments, and in doing so, you’ll find a game-changing moment for someone else, for your family, for your children.”
Kimberly Vilaysouck’s graduation was not only a game-changing moment in her life; it was a watershed moment for her entire family.
Like McFarland, the MTSU marketing major from Nashville is the first person in her family to graduate from high school or college. Her family came to the United States from Vientiane, Laos, a little over 20 years ago.
Vilaysouck, who was born in the United States, said she now plans to go to graduate school.
“I actually wasn’t interested in marketing until I took my first Principles of Marketing class,” said Vilaysouck. “When I started to learn things about marketing, I thought it was interesting to learn about a product, not from the consumer’s perspective, but from the marketer’s perspective.”
Vilaysouck’s eventual career plans are still in the formative stages, but she said MTSU’s Jones College of Business gives her an edge over other future marketers.
“A lot of my marketing classes would actually have classroom speakers from the business world,” she said. “That helps us as students. The professors like to get their students very involved. That helps a lot as far as being in touch with opportunities.”
An estimated 1,803 students received their degrees in two fall 2014 commencement ceremonies inside Murphy Center.
Students 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. Students in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Mass Communication and the University College received their degrees at the afternoon event.
Students 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.
“We want you to enjoy this time of excitement and bask in the glory of this day,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told the students, then saluted the loved ones who have supported their educational goals.
“This is just the beginning of greater things to come.”
MTSU alumnus Ken Strickland, who now leads NBC’s editorial affairs and administration and works closely with NBC executives in his post atop the Washington bureau, told graduates in the afternoon ceremony that he, too, had been in their position.
“Twenty-five years ago, I was in this very building, sitting in those very chairs and thinking the very same thing: who is this guy?” said the 1989 mass communications graduate.
“Let’s do something I couldn’t do when I graduated. Everybody pick up your phones and let’s take a selfie,” he said as the audience laughed and applauded. “You guys better smile!”
Citing the usual commencement clichés, Strickland said he had a different suggestion for the new grads: “I’m going to tell you how ordinary things can lead to extraordinary outcomes. In a language you understand, that’s ‘hashtag #ordinaryextraordinary.’”
He then encouraged the new graduates to learn to get along with people, be open to change and be grateful. “A lot of struggle went into getting you here today,” he said. “Try to always remember how lucky and blessed you are. Be grateful not only for the extraordinary things in your life but for the ordinary things, too.”
Austin Wood, 23, of Bellevue, Tennessee, graduated with honors and a 3.62 GPA from the MTSU’s Honors College and College of Liberal Arts with a major in history and a minor in economics through the Jones College of Business.
Wood’s honors thesis focused on developing features for the MTSU Athletic Department’s mobile app. His goal was trying to increase student involvement through university-sponsored activities.
“It had its ups and downs. It’s now finished and I am very happy with it,” said Wood, who designed the concepts and functionality for the mobile development team. “It’s definitely on my resume.”
Wood was deeply involved in campus life during his time at MTSU. He was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, served as a Student Government Association senator for the College of Liberal Arts, worked as a Blue Elite tour guide through the Office of Admissions, served as an MTSU senator for the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature and played on the MTSU rugby team.
“I’ve been able to do a lot because of the size and resources available,” said Wood, donning a blue and white SGA stole over his gown. “Even though we are such a large university, it has a very small feel in the sense that you can get involved and make a difference.”
Wood plans to attend law school next, then practice disability law for a while and move eventually into politics.
“My dream job is United States senator,” he said with a broad smile.
MTSU’s Registrar’s Office reported that 1,516 of the 1,803 students graduating Dec. 13 are undergraduates and 287 are graduate students, including 271 master’s candidates, five education-specialist degree recipients and 11 doctoral candidates. Another 13 students received undergraduate certificates, and two more received graduate certificates.
Information on MTSU’s graduation ceremonies is available anytime at www.mtsunews.com/graduation-info.
— Gina E. Fann, Gina K. Logue and Jimmy Hart (email@example.com)