By Becky Jane Newbold, Managing Editor

A testament to the success of a quiet little college in Hohenwald was evidenced by an enormous turnout last Friday.  Circling the over-filled parking lot at First Baptist Church, the side street parking at the First United Methodist Church and the already packed street side parking on Oak Street, I gratefully nabbed a spot at the Hohenwald Church of Christ.  

Parking this far from any entrance in Hohenwald is rare, unless a sporting event is in progress.

And I was 20 minutes early.  My late uncle, John Tucker, the winningest high school football coach in Tennessee at one time, would call my arrival five minutes early.  He always insisted punctuality is comprised of a 15 minute window prior to an event.

Resigned, I walked the short city block–in the pouring rain–and considered my options.  Dare I be irritated at the inconvenience?  Not for a moment.

Apparently, families and friends of the 80 graduates from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Hohenwald also adhere to my uncle’s rule.  Even a plead for folks to “squeeze together to make room” was unsuccessful as everyone had already done just that and late comers stood patiently to the sides, in doorways and into the vestibule.

Thanking their families, students at TCAT Hohenwald applauded the support they received.

Thanking their families, students at TCAT Hohenwald applauded the support they received.

One might assume the packed pews of the Baptist church sanctuary were to hear from the first woman in Tennessee to ever head a higher education program.  The leadership of Chancellor Dr. Flora Tydings has certainly turned the 27 colleges of applied technology in Tennessee into a significant force.

Upping the stakes in graduation and placement rates, TCATs across the state, as well as the 13 community colleges in Tennessee, have responded to workforce needs by focusing on practical skills necessary to ready students for the job market.

But I suspected there was a bit more to this crowd.

Completion of a college degree, with licensure and certifications, means jobs and more.  Some students in the room were the first in their families to ever have accomplished a higher degree.  Students came from varied backgrounds.  Some with families and full time jobs, others single parents fighting for a better life for themselves and their children.

At TCAT Hohenwald, 93 percent of students complete their program of study and 90 percent are employed in their field of study.

It was quite remarkable to witness the dedication, not only of the students, but of those who braved the ill weather to proudly attend the momentous occasion.

Following opening remarks by Vice President Randy Young, TCAT President Kelli Kea-Carroll complimented the large class and reminded them their degree came with a guarantee.  

“You are the first class that will actually have a warranty.”  The Tennessee Board of Regents, the governing board for TCATs and Community Colleges, will re-train–for free–any certified or licensed student who is unable to perform the job for which they were trained, she remarked.

Working to accomplish Governor Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, President Kea-Carroll announced the state of Tennessee is two years ahead of schedule.

“Everything before you is worthwhile,” President Kea-Carroll encouraged.  “Go be the one in a million,” she admonished.

President Kea-Carroll also congratulated the Surgical Technology class, under the instruction of Jacquie Coble, with a 100 percent pass rate for eight years in a row.

Following her remarks, Chancellor Dr. Tydings sent off graduates with three “tudes.”

Fortitude was the first of three points. “You are here, you’ve got this,”  Chancellor Dr. Tydings began.  “You have the skill set, we warrantied it.” 

Attitude, the second “tude,” is something “we have the freedom to choose,” she counseled.  “We cannot change our past or how people act,” but 90 percent of life is “how we handle what happens.”

“Think you can or think you can’t, either way you’ll be right,” Chancellor Dr. Tydings continued, in a quote attributed to Henry Ford.

Finally, gratitude, was recommended to the class of 2018 as a lifelong attribute and for “all the people who have helped along the way.”

“These three words can have big impacts on those around you everyday,” Chancellor Tydings concluded.

Student Statewide Outstanding Achievement and Recognition Award winner, Hilory Trogden, offered words to the class.  As a single mother, she expressed appreciation to faculty and staff for their attentiveness and support to all students.  “Teachers with big hearts make me proud of my decision to attend TCAT,” she stated.

Chancellor Dr. Tydings and President Kea-Carroll presented diplomas and faculty from each department pinned graduates.  A benediction was offered by Automotive Technology Instructor Justin Osborne to conclude the ceremony.

New beginnings, all a result of hard work, dedication and a strong support system.

Yes, I am willing to walk in the cold rain to witness wonderful days such as these.

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