Middle Tennessee State University media graduate Nic Dugger is pleasantly blunt, a skill necessary in his deadline-paced TV production career and in building a nationally recognized business since he was 12 years old.
You must tell people to hurry up, to get out of the way, to do the opposite of what they just did, and be sure they’ll still appreciate and respect you when all the clamor is over.
Sounds like good advice for anyone in any career.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right,” Dugger, founder and owner of TNDV: Television LLC, chief marketing officer for Live Media Group LLC and the current president of the Nashville/Mid-South chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, told graduating students Friday night, May 5, at his alma mater’s spring 2023 commencement ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and College of Media and Entertainment.
“It’s that simple. Think about it. A positive mental attitude is the one key that most people overlook. Yes, your work ethic is important, and your trade skills are important. But if you do not believe in yourself, you’re never going to win.”
Calling the commencement address “the honor of a lifetime,” Dugger joked that he’d missed his own 2000 graduation in his haste to head cross-country for a job.
“Many of you have already made significant strides towards your future endeavors,” he said, “but I implore you, remember to enjoy the journey. The work is rewarding and it’s fun and it’s profitable. But that’s not all there is.”
Graduating senior Ashley Barrientos already knows the feeling. A similar drive and ambition have the journalism and English double major from Smyrna, Tennessee, already working a full-time job: founding director for Environment by Impact, an Instagram-based platform for climate news and resources by Brooklyn, New York-based Impact Media.
The former editor-in-chief of Sidelines, MTSU’s student-run daily news source, the first-generation college grad also held reporting, editorial and investigative internships with The Baltimore Sun, Nashville Scene and Elmahaba Center while working at Environment since 2021.
“To walk across the stage with degrees in journalism and English is incredibly surreal and means the world to me and my family — a truly special feeling, especially as a woman of color from an underrepresented background,” Barrientos said. “My parents came here from Mexico with nothing, and my goal is to give them everything I can in return.”
MTSU’s two-day commencement event split the 2,656 members of the first Class of 2023 into four Murphy Center ceremonies to receive their degrees and hear from those who best know what those degrees can do: four MTSU alumni, including Dugger.
A video recap of the weekend’s events is available below.
‘What will you do to stay up to speed?’
Murfreesboro banker and community leader Bill Jones, a 1982 MTSU business alumnus and Pinnacle Financial Partners area executive, shared the audience’s incredulity Friday afternoon at how disseminating information has utterly changed society since his own student days.
Jones, whose leadership efforts include work with the city’s hospitals, the Christy-Houston Foundation philanthropy and the MTSU Foundation, recalled his Comparative European Governments class for the College of Basic and Applied Sciences graduates.
He took the audience through the research steps required for his papers: traveling to campus to the then-Todd Library, searching the card catalog, hoping the needed book wasn’t checked out, and taking hand-written notes on it when he forgot enough change for a copier.
“When I was putting this (speech) together, I Googled ‘What is the difference between capitalism and communism?’, something that would have been important to me for that paper. And in one-fifth of a second, I had 17.9 million responses sitting at my desk,” Jones said, still incredulous. “The phone I carry around has more information available through it than was in the library.
“It’s difficult to imagine and impossible to predict what is to come. … What will you do to stay up to speed as your world develops? What will you do to lead in innovation in science, economics, medicine, entertainment, politics, social and societal reform? I encourage you to be an active participant and not sit on the sideline. Take the inquisitive nature that has been encouraged in you in your time at MTSU to make some difference.”
Catheryn Bolick of Smyrna is approaching that challenge from both arts and science angles. Nearly weighted down by the academic medals, cords and stoles on her graduation gown, she graduated summa cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in both music performance and biology.
She wore medals as a Scholar of Distinction through the Student Organization for the Advancement of Research, or SOAR, and for the top Buchanan Fellowship; had cords for Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society, where she served as president, and Phi Kappa Phi honor society, among others; and a gold stole represented her perfect GPA.
“I’ve always been drawn to biology, and music has been a huge part of my life,” said Bolick. “Throughout all these classes, I’ve realized that they build off one other, even though they are very different subjects.”
Science is creative and music is, at its core, “very sciencey, so I have both the intellectual and creative aspects,” added Bolick, who also has a triple minor in French, chemistry and university honors.
In July Bolick will start a doctoral program at Washington University in St. Louis to study cancer cell biology. She also plans to play music professionally.
“I’m just really excited to move onto this next chapter,” she said.
‘Trip of a lifetime!’
Guest speaker Matt Crews, founder and CEO of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, kicked off the celebration Saturday, May 5, with encouraging words for Jennings A. Jones College of Business and University College graduates.
Urging them not to equate failure with giving up, the 1991 MTSU business management alumnus said the Class of 2023 has already faced challenges utterly foreign to most previous generations.
“I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times how easy your generation it and how hard things used to be. I think that’s total crap. I think every generation has its challenges,” Crews said emphatically.
“We could have never fathomed that years ago: the pressure of social media, the injection of AI (artificial intelligence), you guys are going to be competing with things that didn’t exist when we graduated 30 years ago. So please don’t buy into that. I mean, COVID took nearly two years of … some of the key parts of your college experience.
“I’m sure many of you struggled through that time. I don’t know how you did it. I could have never done that. But the fact that you’re here today proves that you did something no generation has ever, ever dealt with. … And the fact that you’ve sat here today proves that you have done it and can do that again.”
Another 4.0 MTSU scholar is taking that advice seriously. Hunter Brady of Murfreesboro walked across the Murphy Center stage with a degree in general sciences and multiple accolades, including graduating summa cum laude from the University Honors College with a scholar’s distinction from the Undergraduate Research Center.
“To me, commencement represents a transition in life from premedical student to a medical student,” said Brady, who will be attending Lincoln Memorial University to study osteopathic medicine next fall and spent much of his time as a Blue Raider participating in multiple groups across campus and pursuing research.
“I was the president of the Student Organization for the Advancement of Research, founding president of the LifePoint Young Adult Ministry on campus, secretary of the American Medical Student Association, student worker in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, a research assistant and an intern for an organic chemistry lab,” he said.
Brady said the true highlight of his time at MTSU occurred earlier this spring, when he traveled to London with a cohort of other students to present their research.
“We attended the World Congress on Undergraduate Research at the University of Warwick,” he said. “It was by far a trip of a lifetime!”
MTSU alumna, entrepreneur, philanthropist and Board of Trustees member Pamela Wright understands Brady’s enthusiasm for travel.
Not only did she advise travelers for decades at her company, she urged College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and College of Education graduates Saturday afternoon to build fun, including travel, into lives filled with work, family, friends, community service and ongoing learning.
“I almost guarantee you one outcome: You will be surprised. You’ll be surprised at the challenges you face, at the opportunities that come your way, the people you meet, the roles you play, the lives you touch, and the difference you make in the world,” the 1973 psychology graduate said.
“You are in for the surprise of your life. And it is entirely up to you whether you are invigorated or exhausted by your surprising life. So allow me to suggest that you consider your life in whole, not in part, that you attempt to see how things fit together to form a big picture. …
“This picture will never be complete, of course. It will always evolve because you are painting the canvas of your life. Whether the canvas of your life is a masterpiece depends on what you do with it.”
Ceremony also salutes Metro officers
MTSU’s spring 2023 graduation ceremonies celebrated an estimated 2,656 new alumni receiving their degrees, a figure that includes 2,256 undergraduates and 400 graduate students, according to the university Registrar’s Office.
That second number includes 345 master’s degree recipients, 36 education-specialist degree recipients and 19 doctoral recipients, along with 20 graduate students who received certificates for their advanced study.
The official spring 2023 commencement program, listing all the graduates by college as well as providing more details on the guest speakers, is available at https://bit.ly/MTSpring2023GradProgram.
More photos from the days’ events are available in albums at MTSU’s Facebook page.
With these spring 2023 commencement ceremonies, MTSU has now awarded more than 180,700 degrees to its students, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degrees, since its 1911 founding.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told each group of graduates that he and the faculty are proud to see them joining the university’s “distinguished history and tradition,” now in its 112th academic year,
“We look forward to seeing the far-reaching impact as you apply what you have learned during your studies here,” he added.
During the Friday-night ceremony, McPhee also led a salute to five Metro Nashville Police Department officers who helped save lives at Covenant School during a mass shooting at the Nashville private school.
Named as honorary professors of public safety were Detectives Ryan Cagle, Michael Collazo and Zachary Plese, officer Rex Engelbert and Sgt. Jeffrey Mathes. Engelbert could not attend the ceremony.
More details on the recognition for the officers are available at https://bit.ly/MTHonorsMetroOfficers.
Summer 2023 classes at MTSU begin Monday, May 22.
For updates on MTSU anytime, visit https://mtsu.edu or https://MTSUNews.com.
— Gina E. Fann, Randy Weiler, Nancy DeGennaro and Stephanie Wagner (email@example.com)
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