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MARTIN, Tenn. — Kayla Pattat, Camikka Edwards, Jerry Emmons and Lizzie Lee were

among more than 570 graduates who participated in spring commencement May 6 at the University

of Tennessee at Martin. The new graduates shared similar thoughts about the special day and look

forward to what the future holds. Dr. Flora Tydings, Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor,

delivered the commencement address during the 11 a.m. ceremony in the Kathleen and Tom Elam


Pattat, of Somerville, received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. “I’m excited. I’m ready,”

Pattat said before crossing the commencement stage. She credited her faculty members for her

successful college experience and now returns to Fayette County to work in a management position

for a private hog operation.

Edwards, who is from Ripley, was ready to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing

degree. “I’m just so excited,” Edwards said. “It’s been a long time coming … and just finally be able

to accomplish this goal, it just means so much to us today.” Edwards will move to Nashville where

she has accepted a nursing position and eventually plans to pursue advanced degrees.

Jerry Emmons and Lizzie Lee recently became engaged, so graduating together made

commencement even more memorable. “It’s really exciting. I mean I’m starting a new chapter of my

life,” said Emmons, of Selmer, who received a Bachelor of Music. Next is a move to Bowling Green,

Ohio, to begin graduate school in the fall at Bowling Green State University. “This is a huge

milestone for me,” he added. “It’s been five years in the making. I had to take one extra year, but I

wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been really awesome.”

Lee, from Dyersburg, received a master’s degree in education with a major in counseling, her

second UT Martin degree. She plans to work with individuals who have intellectual disabilities. “It’s

interesting. It's a big transition that’s a little bit scary but mostly exciting. I’m ready to go out and do

big-girl stuff,” she said as she laughed.

Dr. Keith Carver presided over his first commencement since becoming university chancellor

in the fall and officially taking the position in January. He welcomed the capacity crowd, which

included graduates from 55 Tennessee counties, 23 states and nine countries. “To our graduates, good

luck to each of you and be assured that the faculty and staff at UT Martin wish you the very best,” he


Following introductions and special music, Carver introduced Tydings who was elected

unanimously in December by the Tennessee Board of Regents as the ninth chief executive officer

since the TBR’s creation in 1972. As TBR chancellor, Tydings manages operations and provides

strategic leadership for one of the nation’s largest higher education systems. She previously served as

president of Chattanooga State Community College. Tydings spoke about “the three ‘tudes’ of

success”: fortitude, gratitude and attitude.

“Each of you have shown that you have fortitude. You made it here today. …” she said. “By

definition, fortitude is the strength of mind that enables a person to bear pain or adversity with

courage.” She recognized both traditional and non-traditional students who exhibited different kinds

of fortitude while earning their degrees.

“The great English philosopher John Locke said, ‘Fortitude is the guard and the support of the

other virtues,’” she said. “Fortitude is a virtue, which you can be very proud to possess. Because your

need will never diminish, you will always need to acquire more (fortitude) as you go on into this next

exciting phase of your life.”

While fortitude is necessary for success, Tydings said it’s important to have gratitude for

those who help us in life, “because no matter how much fortitude it took to get you here, you didn’t

do it by yourself.” She invited the soon-to- be graduates to stand and applaud those who helped them

achieve this educational milestone. Once they were seated, she added, “Those are the people that you

know, but many people who helped you who are right here today you will never know personally.”

Tydings remembered the late Kathleen and Tom Elam for whom the Elam Center is named.

Col. Elam was a longtime University of Tennessee Board of Trustees member, and the Elams were

generous UT Martin and UT donors. “I’ve learned that the Elams are synonymous with generosity

and caring and giving, not only here in Northwest Tennessee but across this great state,” she said.

“They had no children of their own, so they adopted this great university and their community to

nurture. … The Elams lived a life of gratitude, of giving back to their communities and to students

who they might never personally know. … Always be grateful for the gifts that have been given to


Tydings closed by emphasizing how the right attitude influences a person’s life and those

around them. “Henry Ford once said, ‘Think you can or think you can’t, either way you will be

right,’” she said. “The lesson is obvious – having belief in yourself, a positive attitude will account

for much of your success.”

She told the audience “that we have the freedom to choose our attitude,” and choosing the

right attitude is a life-changing decision. “We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that

people will act in certain ways,” she said. “What we can do is play on the one strength that we have,

and that is our attitude.

“The knowledge and skills that you have acquired while at Martin, now coupled with the right

attitude, will take you places you never thought possible.”

Dr. Katie High, vice president for academic affairs and student success for the University of

Tennessee System, represented UT President Joe DiPietro and offered comments following the

commencement address. High is a former UT Martin vice chancellor for student affairs who will

retire in June from the university. Also participating in his final commencement as university provost

was Dr. Jerald Ogg, who will return to UT Martin’s Department of Communications this fall as a

faculty member.


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