Tusculum University celebrates the graduation of 139 students earning bachelor’s, master’s and associate degrees

GREENEVILLE – With all remaining projects completed and final exams taken, 139 Tusculum University students moved into celebratory mode Saturday, Dec. 10, as graduates of Tennessee’s first higher education institution.

From left, Xavier Clemmons, Will Shellenback, Tyler Forde and Houston Johnson relax before the start of commencement.

Sarah Calfee, middle, celebrates her graduation with Dr. Hollie Pellosmaa, left, and Dr. Kate Smith.

Tusculum held its fall commencement ceremony Saturday in Pioneer Arena, an occasion marked by joy as the graduates make the transition to the next phase of their lives. Their proud family members, faculty members who mentored them and university staff members who supported them beamed with satisfaction knowing these career-ready professionals will positively impact communities they serve.

“Many of us remember when our undergraduate students began their studies with us and have watched them develop academically, socially and personally,” said Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president. “We know they will leave us more conscious of the importance of civic engagement as they put their degrees into practice. Our graduate students will be well positioned through their advanced studies to achieve even higher levels of success in their careers, grounded in principles taught by their professors and embedded in our mission.”

Dr. Jeff Burleson, left, places the master’s hood on Jennifer Fincher.

The student experience at Tusculum includes multiple opportunities to grow professional skills through active and experiential learning, including internships, student teaching and research. Tusculum enriches their lives through abundant social activities, participation in clubs and athletic teams and spiritual growth opportunities, all of which occur within a caring Christian environment.

These experiences build memories these new alumni will carry with them long after the tassel has been moved from side of the cap to the other.

The university is home to many students who will be the first in their families to obtain a college degree or come from low-income households. Forty-six percent of the students receiving a bachelor’s degree Saturday were members of Student Support Services or Adults Reaching Career Heights and Educational Success programs.

Tusculum attracts local students as well as others who live in other parts of Tennessee, the nation and the world. One student, Ethan Lau, came to Tusculum from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, and graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

Ethan Lau, right, shakes hands with Dr. Scott Hummel.

During his years at Tusculum, he played soccer, was a member of the debate team and the Pioneer Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was assistant fiction editor for Volume 18 of The Tusculum Review, the university’s international literary journal. His ambition is to write for food and drink media and publications.

Lau was one of the student speakers during Saturday’s ceremony.

“Today is not just a celebration of each and every one of us but also a celebration of all the people that helped us get here,” he said. “From the faculty, staff, coaches and fellow students here at Tusculum, to the kindred souls who upload stuff on Quizlet, we all owe it to them to be proud of what we’ve accomplished. Today is the closing of one chapter, but it is also the opening of another. This is the time to be curious, try new things, screw up and regret none of it.”

The other student speaker was Ashley Harbison, who came to Tusculum from Knoxville has been a resident assistant and played for the softball team. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a medical pre-professional concentration, and minors in psychology and chemistry. She plans to pursue a doctorate in occupational therapy.

In her remarks, Harbison cited a quote she recently read: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and glorious at the end.” She said graduates’ transition from students after graduation will be challenging, and she said she would love to advance straight to the glorious part. She then shared the best piece of advice she had ever received.

Ashley Harbison, right, receives congratulations from Dr. Scott Hummel.

“One afternoon, I was talking with my grandparents about all the possibilities in front of me, and honestly, I was very overwhelmed,” Harbison said. “And to that I remember them asking me, ‘Are you standing on the rock?’ My grandparents went on to explain that when you are standing on the rock, you are standing on God’s word. You are relying on His strength and holding fast to His promises.”

Harbison challenged everyone in the audience and others supporting the graduates to stand on that rock and trust God’s promises.

“That’s not to say there won’t be sickness, sadness or struggles because God does not promise that for us,” she said. “It will be hard and messy because life is full of changes, even after graduation today. But he does promise everlasting life, and that is the most glorious ending. And that is something to celebrate today, too.”

Dr. Tricia Hunsader, Tusculum’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the university looks forward to watching the graduates’ future achievements.

“We will remember these alumni with great affection because they have impressed us with their desire to learn, their commitment to serve and their pioneering spirit,” Dr. Hunsader said. “We are confident they will represent their alma mater with distinction and be strong contributors to the well-being of their communities. When they return for a visit, we will be excited to hear how a Tusculum education factored into their accomplishments following graduation.”

More information about the university is available at www.tusculum.edu.