GREENEVILLE – Like the other 218 students in her Tusculum University graduation class, Allison Brewer experienced life going topsy-turvy during the global coronavirus pandemic.
She remembers the fear and uncertainty as she packed her belongings in the spring of 2020 to head home with her parents. But as she reflected on the last two years during her commencement speech Saturday, May 7, in Pioneer Arena, she also highlighted the positives that emerged.
“Having to learn along with our professors how to use Zoom – and even teach some of our professors how to use it – is something I think we should all be able to add to our résumé,” Brewer said. “I believe the way our class reacted to this unprecedented time is a true testament to our generation. While none of us knew what was happening or how to cope, we still managed to survive. We have had to overcome and adapt to so many obstacles, constant changes and hardships in the past couple of years, but we made it.”
Brewer, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biology with a medical pre-professional concentration, recalls the joy of returning to campus and again participating in the Midnight Breakfast held during finals week, seeing faculty members in person and rebuilding the sense of community and home that existed on campus before COVID-19.
“We showed to everyone around us, even ourselves, what it means to be resilient and to not give up,” she said. “Although it has been difficult, I believe our spirits and determination will send us very far in life. The memories we have made here will last a lifetime, and I’m sure we’ll look back on those late nights studying for exams, Cook Out runs and nights spent with friends and cherish them for years to come. I hope each and every one of us will face our future obstacles with strength and wisdom for others to follow.”
Brewer said her extensive support system enabled her to graduate. In addition to family and friends, she said the Student Support Services program as well as Chuck Sutton and Katie Odoms in the Office of Student Affairs impacted her greatly.
“My time at Tusculum has taught me how to think critically, be a light for others, show grace and advocate for others,” Brewer said. “The science department constantly pushed me to be my best and to learn as much as I could, and for that I am extremely grateful. Our education we received here is extremely valuable, but it is also how we apply the education that matters.”
Tusculum’s graduation class featured students from 11 nations and 22 states in the United States. Each of the students has special stories, including the one shared by Olivia Cox, who graduated with a Master of Arts in organizational training and performance management. She is originally from Mexico and worked there in engineering design until she met her husband and moved to the United States.
During her speech, Cox told her fellow graduates that the degree they received is another tool to handle inevitable challenges and improve their flexibility to adapt. One of those times came after she moved to the United States and discovered her engineering degree from Mexico did not transfer. She also had difficulty communicating because of language barriers. These obstacles produced a change in her demeanor from being jovial to reserved, and she recognized she needed to redefine her personality and change.
The first step was to enroll in a community college to learn English. She graduated summa cum laude with an associate degree. That enabled Cox to land a job with one of the largest utility companies in the region. She has worked there for 15 years.
From there, the dominoes started to fall. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Tusculum and a couple of certifications and participated in Lean Six Sigma and change management initiatives. Now with her master’s degree from Tusculum, Cox has exceeded goals that once seemed unattainable.
“If I can make it, I promise you that you will conquer every dream of yours with decisiveness, resilience and perseverance,” Cox said. “I advise you, supported by my experience, to work with courage, sincerity and dedication to pursue your goals. Your hard work will pay off, and financial resources will follow. And remember, no matter what, keep moving forward.”
In addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Tusculum awarded associate degrees. Among the Associate of Arts in general studies graduates were 12 students from Tennessee High School, who studied as a cohort in the dual enrollment program at Tusculum as part of a joint initiative between the university and the Bristol school. They are Davis Akard, Gage Canady, Owen Ferguson, Jonah Gassiot, Lillian Holden, Kadence Hoskins, Paxton Odum, Lily Rosser, Elizabeth Rowe, Madeline Simcox, Natalie Thomsen and Carmen Webb.
This is the first cohort of Tennessee High students to graduate from Tusculum with an associate degree prior to high school graduation.
Tusculum held events in April to award graduation cords to the Tennessee High students as well as to Lydia Adkins, a student at Gibbs High School in Corryton, and Amelia Mullins, a student at South Greene High School in Greeneville.
Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president, congratulated all of the graduates.
“The value of a Tusculum education is extraordinary, and our graduates will discover the coursework they completed at our university will equip them to be career-ready professionals,” he said. “They have been blessed to study with outstanding faculty members and work with dedicated staff members who are focused on their success. These alumni have impressed us and will always be part of the Tusculum family. We are confident they will make their alma mater proud in whatever direction God leads them. We are excited about their future.”