Convocation welcomes freshmen into ‘True Blue’ com...

Convocation welcomes freshmen into ‘True Blue’ community

Guest speaker and author Tori McClure, who also is president of Spaulding University in Louisville, Ky., gives the keynote address during MTSU’s University Convocation 2012 Aug. 26. (MTSU photos by Andy Heidt)

Hundreds of incoming freshmen and their families received a formal welcome into the MTSU community Sunday afternoon during the annual University Convocation ceremony inside Murphy Center.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee welcomed the new students by noting that the university enters its second century of higher-education service with the same commitment to helping students succeed while on campus and beyond.

“Beginnings are always indeed very special,” McPhee told the students, pointing out the critical importance of the MTSU faculty and staff in their success. “You will meet individuals who may literally change your lives.”

Dr. Deb Sells, MTSU vice president of student affairs, shared the history behind some of the pageantry of the event — for example, the wearing of academic robes by faculty dates back to the 12th century — but also reminded the incoming Class of 2016 and their families that Sunday’s ceremony was all about the students.

“You represent what we are all about as an institution,” Sells said. “You are the reason all of this is occurring today. Welcome to MTSU. Today you become one of us.”

Coby Sherlock, president of the Student Government Association, challenged incoming students to find their place within the state’s largest undergraduate university, which boasts 250-plus student organizations.

MTSU Student Government Association President Coby Sherlock, left, leads administrators, faculty and students in the “True Blue Pledge” during University Convocation 2012.

“The answer is involvement,” Sherlock said. “I challenge every student in this building to become involved in the True Blue community at MTSU.”

Sherlock led the entire arena in a recitation of the True Blue Pledge, which spells out the four core values of the university community: honesty and integrity; respect for diversity; engagement in the community; and a commitment to reason, not violence.

The first line of the pledge, “I am true Blue,” began at MTSU as an affirmation of the best ideals shared by the Blue Raider community, including the values, commitment to student success and devotion to the institution.

It also calls upon students, alumni, faculty, staff and administration alike to be valuable contributors to the university’s progress.

In introducing guest speaker Tori McClure, McPhee paralleled McClure’s “first” — the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean — to that of many of the incoming students seeking a higher-education degree.

“Many of you will be the first in your family to graduate from a major university,” McPhee said, “but in the final analysis, you must keep on rowing in order to get to your destination.”

McClure, president of Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., is author of A Pearl in the Storm, a national bestselling memoir that chronicles her three-month solo trip in a rowboat across the Atlantic. In addition to her solo Atlantic adventure, she is the first woman to ski overland to the South Pole.

She encouraged MTSU students to live up to the values of the True Blue community.

“I was not the smartest person in my college class, not even close,” she said. “But I was always one of the hardest-working. Over the course of a lifetime, ‘hard work’ will win out over ‘born smart’ every time.”

Her Convocation remarks were a mix of humorous personal anecdotes, colorful insights and quotes from famous sages ranging from Socrates to Winston Churchill, including:

  • “The more you can expand your minds, the better places they will be to live in for the rest of your lives.”
  • “Whatever you do, really do it. Anything less is a waste of your time and probably somebody else’s money.”
  • “Don’t be stupid. Stupid often begins with phrases like this: ‘Hey, hold my beer. Watch this!’” As the crowd laughed, she added: “You know I’m right.”
  • “You get out of life what you put in. If you make it a habit of only half-doing things, you’ll only have half a life. Do you think an employer cannot tell the difference between half-done and well-done?”

You can watch an excerpt of her Convocation remarks below.

Afterward, incoming freshmen Erika Ivey, Ashley Hutchins and Danielle Light, all of the Knoxville area, said they enjoyed the ceremony and looked forward to starting their college careers at MTSU.

“It really got me excited for the year,” Ivey said. “It made me feel more at home here.”

McClure’s speech, she said, “was funny, but it was serious at the same time … really inspiring.”

McClure’s book was MTSU’s 2012 Summer Reading Selection, a program created in 2002 that aims to provide a unifying experience for entering freshmen. Incoming students are expected to read the book before fall classes start, and some classes will discuss it. Faculty also are incorporating the book into their fall lesson plans.

The book so inspired incoming freshman Blair Boothe of Columbia, Tenn., that the music-education major actually created a musical piece following the story line of McClure’s journey across the Atlantic.

The 18-year-old Boothe, a trombone player, read the book in mid-June and knew immediately that he wanted to put his inspiration to music. After about 2 1/2 days of work on his computer, an orchestra and organ piece entitled “Perils of the Pearl” came to life.

“Her story, the fact that she wanted adventure like that … all the hardships, it just kind of touched me,” he said, reflecting on why he wrote the piece. “… The music is a whole lot better if it’s inspired by a story like this.”

Boothe presented McClure with a digital copy of the work before the ceremony.

Following Convocation, hundreds joined McPhee in the Walnut Grove area for the annual President’s Picnic. While classes for fall semester officially began Saturday, most students will be coming to campus starting Monday.

Both events were part of MTSU’s annual “Week of Welcome” celebration. For a complete “Week of Welcome” schedule, visit or call 615-898-2454 for more information.

— Jimmy Hart (