In praising the 830-plus Middle Tennessee State University summer graduates for earning their degrees Saturday, MTSU accounting professor Stephen Salter offered a slate of principles for them to carry beyond the Murphy Center stage into a world that awaits their gifts and talents.
“Innovate and be prepared to change, and when you have an innovation, bring it back here to the ‘Boro,” said Salter, the 2022-23 Faculty Senate president who served as keynote speaker for Saturday’s summer commencement ceremony. “You’re the one that determines what you can and cannot do.
“Build your network and that of your fellow graduates. Your power is not just your knowledge but the depth and breadth of your network. It magnifies your achievements.”
With hundreds of families, friends and supporters in the stands inside Hale Arena, graduates like Jimmy Cassidy of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, appreciated the journey. Earning a master’s degree in criminal justice administration was decades in the making for the high school criminal justice educator, who first enrolled at MTSU in 1991.
Priorities changed and he ended his college pursuits to work full time at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, where he spent nearly 30 years working patrol and eventually moving into the community service unit — where he fell in love with teaching others about law enforcement.
In 2014, he re-enrolled at MTSU, with his law enforcement work thankfully translating into criminal justice course credits. After garnering a bachelor’s through the University College in 2018, he immediately entered the master’s program, taking online and night classes while juggling a full-time job.
“It had always been something I wanted to complete, and my professors made classes fun and it made me want to stay at MTSU. But I’m sure glad to finish up,” Cassidy said. “The satisfaction is immeasurable.”
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee thanked the graduates for choosing the Blue Raider campus to fulfill their academic dreams and reinforced the commitment of the university’s administration and faculty to provide a top quality educational experience to current and future scholars.
“Our investments in in-demand programs and facilities reflect our deep commitment to our students’ success,” he said. “We constantly keep our fingers on the pulse of industry workforce needs and work tirelessly to align our academic offerings to educate students to fulfill those needs.”
That sentiment reflects the experience of summer graduate Clark Wilson, 24, of Bristol, Tennessee, who said “MTSU was definitely the right fit for me.” Wilson finished with a 3.8 GPA majoring in audio production, with minors in music industry and honors, where he was a Buchanan Fellow — the most competitive and prized scholarship MTSU offers.
“Both the College of Media and Entertainment and Honors College have exceptional faculty and staff who are invested in my postgraduate success,” Wilson added. “I was able to learn from professionals in the industry, with access to so many resources including the studios. Audio production is one of the best programs in the nation.”
The 2018 Tennessee High School graduate did an internship with award-winning Evolve Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, last spring and was a student worker for two years with the Honors College, assisting with events, design projects, making repairs and more. Wilson will return to Bristol and plan his career path.
‘Be a person who invests in diversity’
Of the 834 graduates in the August Class of 2023, 559 were undergraduates and 275 were graduate students, according to the Registrar’s Office. The graduate student group included 245 master’s degree recipients, 13 education specialist degree recipients and 17 doctoral recipients. Five graduate students received certificates for their advanced study.
Salter, who has a Ph.D. in accounting and international business, teaches at the graduate and undergraduate level within the Jones College of Business, specializing in strategic cost and control in health care, management accounting, and international accounting.
Finding his professional path wasn’t straightforward for Salter, who was born in Canada and grew up in Trinidad in the West Indies, where his mother’s family has lived for over 200 years.
“Try to find a job you enjoy, and if by circumstance you’re in a job you don’t enjoy, try to find opportunities within that job to seek enjoyment,” he said. “I know this can be done. I am a potential history major who became an accountant and who has been able to turn that into a study of how the values of people affect their behavior as accountants.”
Through the Fulbright Specialist Program, Salter has taught in Chile and Uruguay both in English and Spanish, experiences that impressed upon him the importance of travel and diversity as well as making friends “who don’t look like you.”
“Even if working abroad isn’t in your plans, I still encourage you to travel and recommend taking your vacation when possible and even a couple extra weeks if you can afford it,” he said. “Try somewhere you would not think of, like Vietnam, Argentina or South Africa. Don’t be the worker bee who sacrifices their vacation days. These trips are what you’ll remember, not extra days at work.
“Show up and participate in your community. As Aaron Sorkin, the great American playwright, said, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ Be a person who invests in diversity. My experience in life is that you can learn a lot from people who have grown up differently from you and have different daily experiences.”
For Nashville, Tennessee, native, Nichelle Shelton, who earned her master’s degree in special education, graduating was a major personal achievement — but not only for her.
“It demonstrates to my two young daughters that it is never too late to go back to school and pick up new skills,” said Shelton, who pursued education because of her genuine love assisting students in learning and achieving their goals.
Now working as the special education resource teacher at Northfield Elementary School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Shelton said she enjoyed attending MTSU basketball and football games during her time as a Blue Raider and will most remember her interactions with the College of Education faculty.
“I got the impression that they cared about my success and to have done their best to support me,” she said.
The official August 2023 commencement program, listing all the graduates by college, is available at https://bit.ly/MTSummer2023GradProgram.
More photos from the days’ events are available in albums at MTSU’s Facebook page.
With this summer 2023 commencement ceremony, MTSU will have awarded more than 181,500 degrees to its students, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degrees, since its 1911 founding.
The university’s 2023-24 academic year, the 112th in its history, begins Monday, Aug. 28, with the first official day of fall 2023 classes.
MTSU will formally welcome its new freshman class of 2027 and new transfer students at University Convocation in Murphy Center on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. Central.
That special event will feature Bruce Feiler, the author of the MTSU summer reading book, “Life is in the Transitions,” as guest speaker. It also will air live at https://www.mtsu.edu/live,https://facebook.com/mtsublueraiders and https://mtsu.edu/TrueBlueTV.
— Jimmy Hart, Nancy DeGennaro, Stephanie Wagner, Randy Weiler (email@example.com)