MTSU leaders had sincere and emphatic praise for the 804 newest members of the Class of 2020 Saturday, Aug. 8, during the university’s second virtual commencement ceremony.
They also offered comfort to all those summer graduates, celebrating a life-changing accomplishment far from the Murphy Center stage they thought they’d be crossing as their loved ones waved and shouted.
“It would be incorrect to say that you did not get to graduate. ‘Graduating’ does not mean ‘walking across a stage,’” School of Agriculture associate professor Justin Gardner told those students in videotaped remarks.
“Stage or no stage, you are still alumni of MTSU. You are still ‘True Blue.’ … Nobody has ‘missed’ anything. We are still here, together, celebrating your accomplishments. We are just doing it differently.”
Citing a story by author John G. Miller in “The Question Behind the Question,” Gardner compared the university’s decision to protect its 2020 graduates with online classes and virtual ceremonies to a pilot’s choice to “restart the engine” in an emergency.
“Something changed — something outside of their control, something that they did not cause, something that created a huge disruption and a massive problem,” said the professor, whose yearlong tenure as MTSU’s Faculty Senate president ended with Saturday’s ceremony.
“We asked ourselves the most powerful question: what can we do? The answer was easy. The answer was uncomfortable. We had to run the university differently. I had to teach differently, and you had to learn differently. We had to hold commencement differently. …
“In the process we, you and I both, learned something important. We learned that we are resilient. We learned that we can survive adversity. We learned that we have the power to take responsibility, to take action, to withstand the uncomfortable and to do things differently.”
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee expressed his sorrow at missing out on personally congratulating each graduate but also voiced his joy in still witnessing their big day.
“This pandemic prompted us to rapidly change in many ways for us to continue serving our students and this community,” he said. “It means today, rather than standing next to you at this ceremony, I must share my pride in your accomplishments by way of this video.
“You have persevered through a global public health crisis to achieve your educational goals and reach this important milestone. … The resilience and responsiveness that you have demonstrated throughout the past five months will serve as the roadmap for navigating the challenges that lie ahead.
“… We look forward to seeing the far-reaching impact of what you have learned during your studies at this university and how you apply the strengths that you’ve gained through this unprecedented time in human history,” McPhee added.
New graduates look to future
Two of the university’s newest alumni said they’re looking forward to their next steps with hope as they also look back with gratitude to their MTSU experiences.
Abigail Williams will take her love of language into graduate school. A double major in German and English in MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, the Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, native plans to pursue a master’s degree in linguistics and a doctorate in folklore.
She’ll then make use of her experience as a student mentor and tutor when she’s a professor.
“I want to have the opportunity to inspire other students as much as my professors at MTSU have inspired me,” Williams said. “I want to stay in an environment like MTSU, where I am intellectually challenged and am surrounded by a diverse community.”
In fact, the summa cum laude graduate said her college encounters prompted her to begin studying six more languages.
“I was fascinated by how language is a manifestation of philosophy and community, recognizing how speech displays the differences of people close to home and internationally,” Williams said.
Gallatin, Tennessee, native Gareth Laffely, who graduated summa cum laude with a marketing degree from the Jones College of Business, called MTSU “a home away from home” that’s helped him develop professional and personal character.
“Through the University Honors College, I was able to work beside classmates and faculty members on exciting projects,” said Laffely, who also is a musician and composer.
“Because of MTSU, I met the woman who will be my wife next year, I was able to receive my dream degree debt-free, and I obtained the tools I needed to get me ready for my best life.”
The next chapter for Laffely, an Honors Transfer Fellow and Harold Love Sr. Outstanding Community Service Award recipient, begins later this month as a graduate student. He’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in digital marketing at East Tennessee State University.
Alumni total now nearly 151K
Williams and Laffely are two of MTSU’s 577 summer 2020 undergraduate degree recipients.
The university Registrar’s Office said the 804 August graduates, recognized by University Provost Mark Byrnes, also included 227 graduate students; 204 received master’s degrees, 11 received education-specialist degrees, and 12 earned their doctorates. Five graduate students also received certificates marking their advanced studies.
Each graduate’s name, along with their academic honors and special recognition, was included in an on-screen running scroll during the ceremony.
A replay of the ceremony is available on MTSU’s YouTube channel and its Facebook page. MTSU’s True Blue TV also will replay the complete ceremony at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. True Blue TV airs on Comcast Xfinity channels 9 and 1096 in Murfreesboro.
An official program listing all the graduates is available here as a PDF.
Each of the summer 2020 graduates also is receiving a “True Blue Graduation Box” that includes an MTSU diploma cover, a mortarboard with a unique blue 2020 tassel, commemorative programs and other special MTSU gifts.
Diplomas will be mailed to each graduate later this month. More details for graduates are available at www.mtsu.edu/grades-and-transcripts/graduation.php.
MTSU is encouraging new graduates to share their photos of receiving graduation boxes and diplomas at home and of their graduation celebrations with family and friends. Photos can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or tagged on Instagram.
The Aug. 8 ceremony put MTSU within reach of its 151,000th degree presentation. MTSU has now awarded 150,967 students with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees since its inaugural 1911-12 academic year.
Updated MTSU graduation information is available year-round at http://mtsunews.com/graduation-info.
MTSU will begin its 2020-21 academic year on Monday, Aug. 24, with the first day of fall 2020 classes. The semester will be a mix of remote-learning, online, in-person and hybrid courses, and classes will end Nov. 25. Masks will be required in all indoor public settings.
For status updates on MTSU, visit http://mtsu.edu/coronavirus.
— Gina E. Fann, Gina K. Logue and Randy Weiler (email@example.com)