Commencement Speakers Offer Graduates Advice for Work, Life

At commencement events around the country, college graduates are getting more than just their diplomas; they’re receiving inspiration and bits of advice from the speakers at their ceremonies.

UT graduates heard from fellow students, alumni, and industry and academic leaders, including three speakers who received honorary degrees—Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt; Tennessee’s 48th governor, Phil Bredesen; and HGTV founder Ken Lowe.

Here are some words of wisdom UT commencement speakers shared with grads:

Harrison Schmitt, astronaut, former US senator (honorary degree recipient): “My time with the Apollo program taught me that when Americans do great things, we rely on young Americans. The average age of the 450,000 designers, engineers, workers, and scientists that enabled Neil Armstrong to be the first man on the moon in 1969, and me to be the 12th such man, was about 25. . . . As America moves forward toward a future on the moon and Mars, as many thoughtful Americans think it should, it will be your generation that creates that future. It will be your generation that leads the way.”

Ken Lowe, chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive (honorary degree recipient): “You know, social media’s a wonderful thing. It’s changed our lives forever. I appreciate a good tweet as well as the next guy. But I think it’s good now and then to turn off the iPhone, or Galaxy, or whatever you use, and have a real conversation with another human being; and then listen. You might be surprised by what you learn.”

Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee (honorary degree recipient): “The first draft of anything is usually way off. Writers know this. Over the years, I’ve observed that the most successful people don’t get hung up on trying to get everything right the first time. That paralyzes you. The trick of most successful people instead is to act—get that first draft of whatever you are trying to do down, recognizing that it won’t be right. And then you edit, revise, strike out what’s not working, and make the next draft better, then keep repeating that throughout your life.”

Paulette Brown, immediate past president of the American Bar Association: “Our nation’s history of racial inequality, economic injustice, and the mistreatment of anyone who is considered as ‘other’ has contributed to a huge imbalance in our legal system. . . . We have a unique responsibility to the profession to ensure respect for the rule of law for everyone. That can only happen when the public believes that our justice system works fairly, impartially, and without favor. Know and understand on a daily basis your law license is more than just a fancy piece of paper. It gives you enormous power to do good.”

Darris Upton, College of Social Work graduate and president of the Bachelor of Social Work Organization: “When the fires swept through the Smoky Mountains and brought terrible tragedy to our friends and neighbors in Gatlinburg, here we were—a bunch of students, at the end of a semester, trying to take final exams, finish projects, turn in papers, and even trying to make plans to get home for the holidays. But we stopped. The smoke was still rising and the ground was still hot when the students at this university began collecting water, food, and clothing, and spending time at shelters with our friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. . . . to make sure they were all right. When we leave here today, remember that you have all the tools that you need to reach all of your goals. But most importantly, remember who you are. Remember your humanity. Help others freely, without being forced or expecting a reward of some kind of recognition. Because that is the true tradition we carry. That is the proud legacy that goes with us. That humanity is what makes us all Volunteers.”

McKinsey Patterson, College of Nursing graduate: “In order to do this profession well, what do you have to be? You have to be passionate. People throw that word around a lot, but in its Latin derivative, having passion means being willing to suffer because you care about something so much. But suffering isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it teaches us what we need to know about ourselves and the things in life that are worth our pursuit.”

Sarah Hillyer, director of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society: “I appreciate my parents’ love and the lessons they taught me that day when they asked me to come out of the girls’ bathroom [at the Elks Hoop Shoot Contest] and compete: 1. Face your fears; 2. Don’t compare yourself to others; 3. Have the courage to always give your best effort. . . . I’d love to leave with you eight words I hope you never forget—eight to honor the number of championships Pat Summitt won throughout her career—and these words are Please, never lock yourself in a bathroom stall.

Isaac Bennett, vice president and capital markets manager for Farm Credit Bank of Texas: “It’s from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources that we feed, clothe, and in some cases heal the world. Many things can be replaced; however, we all have to eat—it’s the common bond that binds every nation. No one produces food more efficiently and safer than the American farmer.”

Bennett Croswell, president, military engines, Pratt & Whitney: “Complacency is a dangerous thing, and I would encourage you to set both goals that you think you can attain but also stretch goals—goals that will push you further and that won’t be easy, goals that will keep you sharp and energized about your work. More importantly—don’t let failure derail you. Failure happens. And when it does, rather than beating yourself up, find the cause and fix the problem. Then assess where things went wrong and how you can do better next time.”

Patrick Hazari, director of design and construction at Friends of the High Line in New York City: “Starting out with any job, everything will be new and unfamiliar. The first few months won’t be pretty. The hours and workload will be quite demanding, and the learning curve incredibly steep. At times, it may feel like your first semester in college. . . . I would encourage you to give yourself every opportunity possible to contribute and to take each challenge as an opportunity to gain knowledge.”

 

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)