Congratulations to our December graduates!

A Vol State grad's hope for the future

More than 2,000 Fall Semester graduates were awarded their degrees and certificates at commencement ceremonies at several of our community and technical colleges in December.

About half of the 40 College System of Tennessee institutions hold Fall commencements. Fall Semester graduates of colleges without December ceremonies can participate in their college's Spring Semester graduation ceremonies, which are held at all the colleges.

A sampling of December commencements across the System:

Columbia State Community College celebrated 204 degree and certificate candidates as they crossed the stage in front of family and friends during the commencement ceremony in the Webster Athletic Center Dec. 14.

Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president, opened the ceremony by welcoming degree candidates, faculty, staff, family, friends and guests.

“Today is a special day for several reasons,” Smith said. “It is a day of celebration of accomplishments. It is a day of recognition that these soon to be graduates set a goal and accomplished it.”

Smith introduced alumnus Matt Niswander as the guest speaker for the fall commencement ceremony. Niswander owns Niswander Family Medicine, a local primary care family medical practice, where he is a family nurse practitioner.

On Dec. 13, Columbia State’s nursing faculty pinned 31 new nursing graduates in front of family and friends during a traditional nurses pinning ceremony.

“Our nursing graduates have the knowledge and skill to provide safe, competent and patient-centered care,” said Cheryl Smith, Columbia State nursing program director. “The faculty and nurse graduates worked hard to reach this milestone. As a result, the lives of these graduates, their families, their friends and people in the community will benefit immensely.”

Columbia State nursing graduates completed four semesters of classroom instruction and 450 hours of clinical instruction in order to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in nursing.

Pellissippi State Community College graduated a record number of students this month, with 580 graduates and at least 450 of them participating in the Dec. 13 commencement ceremony at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena.

The number of December graduates has grown by more than 100, said Manager of Records Terri L. Strader. Pellissippi State graduated 477 students in December 2018.

“We have summer graduates participating in December’s commencement as well, and we had a record number of summer graduates, too,” Strader added. “In summer 2018, we had 217 graduates, and this summer we had 262.”

Assistant Professor Tracy Rees, winner of the Roger Crowe Excellence in Teaching Award for 2019, was commencement speaker.

At Volunteer State Community College, students, family, and well-wishers filled the Pickel Field House on Saturday to celebrate Fall commencement for 847 graduates. They represent 22 different countries of birth. Thirty-one of the prospective graduates are military veterans. There were 324 Tennessee Promise students and 173 Tennessee Reconnect adult students expecting to graduate.

Austin Bonebrake of Portland was named Outstanding Fall Graduate at the ceremony. Faculty nominators cited his overcoming adversity with resilience, after suffered back injuries in a sledding accident. He came to Vol State quadriplegic, with some limited use of his hands.

“I don’t have much hand function. So I do the work on my iPad,” he said. “I have a PDF viewer app and I use my pinky to write. I takes a bit longer to do assignments. I knew that I liked being outdoors, so that’s why I chose environmental science. I like to problem solve and find solutions.  I’ve enjoyed all of my environmental science classes. Assistant professor Erin Bloom has been my go-to person. She’s helped me keep my head up.”

Bonebrake plans to transfer to Western Kentucky University to attend in the spring semester. “When it (the accident) first happened it was difficult to cope with,” he said. “But as time goes on you get into your own groove. You just have to go for it.”

Dennis Powers, class of 1973 and Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, gave the Alumni Association welcome. Former Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Tennessee football punter Craig Colquitt was the commencement speaker. The two-time Super Bowl champion reminded the graduates: “The opportunities come from how you decide your own life.”

Walters State Community College conferred degrees and certificates on 467 graduates during commencement ceremonies Dec. 13. The college also held its traditional nurses pinning ceremony the night before, for 42 nursing graduates.

The most popular major for student receiving the Associate of Science degree this semester was general studies, which provides the foundational freshman and sophomore studies for many different majors at four-year universities. Other popular majors were pre-imaging science, psychology, accounting and business administration.

Associate of Arts degrees were given in art education, studio arts, history, mass communications and political science. Associate of fine arts were given in art and music. Two students were awarded the Associate of Science in teaching.

Technical certificates enable individuals to go to work immediately after graduation or develop special skills. The majority, 91, of technical certificates went to fall graduates of the basic law enforcement academy. Forty-three students earned technical certificates in emergency medical technician.

Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology that had December commencement ceremonies included TCATs Crossville, Dickson, Hohenwald, Livingston, Murfreesboro, Paris, Ripley and Shelbyville.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.