GORDON URGES UT MARTIN GRADUATES TO EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, EMBRACE CHANGE
GORDON URGES UT MARTIN GRADUATES TO EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED,
MARTIN, Tenn. – J. Houston Gordon, of Covington, urged graduates of the University of
Tennessee at Martin to expect the unexpected, embrace change and demand truth during his
commencement address Dec. 10 in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
Gordon, a 1968 UT Martin alum, encouraged the graduating class by assuring them that their
grade point averages do not determine or guarantee success in the future, and he challenged them
to use future difficulties as opportunities to improve themselves and their society.
“Some of you worked hard to get here. Others, not so much. Some of you struggled; others, not
so much. Some of you were encouraged; others, not so much. But guess what? You’re all here.
Today is your day, and you’re excited about beginning the next stage of your life,” he said.
“Some of you may be uncertain about your future, concerned about student debt, careers,
employment, and even where and how you will live. Let me suggest, however, that such
challenges present opportunities for you to grow, to overcome, to develop self-discipline and
tenacity, (and) to learn to stand when others flee.”
He then shared a personal experience from one of his first high-profile cases as a trial lawyer.
Gordon represented Lt. William Calley, the only soldier convicted of crimes during the 1968 My
Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The experience changed his life and shaped his career of more than
four decades as a trial lawyer. While representing Calley, Gordon would often spend time at the
Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., seeking personal direction. Jefferson, himself, offered
words of wisdom.
“As I sat there, worrying and meditating, I looked up and read what was carved in the marble
around the rotunda: the words, ‘I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility toward every
form of tyranny over the minds of men.’ The deep truths found in Jefferson’s words changed my
life,” said Gordon.
“I urge you (graduates) to reject tyranny over your minds. … When we allow others to control
what we think, when we condone and participate in anger and division, when we refuse to be
accountable for our own lives and our own destinies, when we refuse to accept others, when we
refuse to be accountable for our mistakes, when we allow ourselves to be seduced by false claims
of easy fixes, we accept the lie and succumb to tyranny,” he continued.
Gordon acknowledged that the current graduating class is entering an uncertain world beyond the
commencement stage, and assured them the challenges they will face are not unknown to our
“When I graduated in 1968, America was deeply divided along racial lines and about the
Vietnam War. We were incurring a huge national debt; 500,000 American soldiers were fighting
in Vietnam; and there were protests and flag burnings at home,” he said. Martin Luther King Jr.
and Sen. Robert Kennedy were both assassinated that year, while the Cold War, Middle Eastern
tension and the threat of nuclear annihilation prevailed.
“Today, in this, your new season, America is deeply divided as well. There are flag burnings,
protests and riots in the streets. (There are) racial and economic divisions, frustrations and anger.
American troops are still fighting on foreign soils,” he added. “The similarities between your
time (now) and our time then are obvious. … I urge you, graduates, to demand the truth first
from yourself and then in every facet of your lives. Expect the unexpected, embrace change,
Gordon concluded his remarks by assuring graduates they are well-prepared for the challenges
that may lie ahead.
“Congratulations. I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that you, every last one of you
… can not only live through your turbulent times, but you can prosper during them,” he said. “I
pray that you will bring about change that is good. I pray that you will seek and demand truth,
and as you do, the world will be all the better for it.”
Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT System President, was present to confer degrees during the ceremony and
also congratulated the assembled graduates on behalf of the UT System
“We’re proud of your accomplishments and your attainment of this milestone, and we’re excited
about the opportunities that will be afforded to you as a graduate to use the knowledge you’ve
gained here at UT Martin for the betterment of your families and all of humanity,” he said.
“You’ve made sacrifices. Loved ones have believed in you. Be sure you enjoy this day; take a
moment to savor it because you deserve it.”
DiPietro also took a moment to thank UT Martin Interim Chancellor Bob Smith and his wife,
Ramona, for their dedication during the university’s transition period over the past 20 months.
“We have definitely benefitted from (Smith’s) gifted leadership, and during his tenure many
things have changed here at UT Martin,” he said. “We wish Bob and Ramona well, and we want
to thank them for all they’ve done to improve this place. … We owe them a thanks we can never,
ever truly repay.”
Approximately 680 students from the summer and fall 2016 classes were eligible to receive
degrees during the commencement ceremony.PHOTO ID: