Don’t lose your hope.
That was the message to members of Maryville College’s Class of 2009 and the more than 3,000 spectators from Dave Ramsey, personal money management expert, popular nationally syndicated radio and television host and best selling author, who delivered the commencement address on Sunday, May 17, and was awarded an honorary degree from the College.
Ramsey, who had a $4-million real estate portfolio at age 26 but lost it at age 30, rebuilt his financial wealth and now shares his “rags to riches to rags to riches” story so that individuals may learn from his mistakes and his successes.
Opening his address to the Class of 2009, which he titled “Hope, Real Hope,” Ramsey described himself as a “regular guy” who remembers what it was like to lose hope.
“‘Hope’ is a word we hear in our culture a lot. We hear it in political campaigns. It’s been used in talks about the recession,” he said, explaining that graduates needed to understand hope as more than a slogan or cliché.
Ramsey, walking from end to end on a stage set up on the lawn between Sutton Science Center and Anderson Hall, told the approximately 225 graduates who participated in the ceremonies that successful people never lose hope.
“When you’ve got hope, you can do anything,” he said after quoting Scripture from Proverbs 13:12.
To hold on to hope, he urged the graduates to avoid three specific actions in their lives.
Making his first point – that people shouldn’t take current failures and project them into their futures – Ramsey said he knew of many millionaires and highly successful people who were first “colossal failures,” but persevered.
“What they did with those failures was that they bundled them up and chose to stand on them,” he told the graduates. “The gleaming mountain of success is really a pile of garbage. The only question is whether you’re going to be standing on top of it or lying underneath it.”
Advising graduates to not place their hope in the wrong things, Ramsey said that knowledge, not a diploma, is “the currency of the day” and a safe basis for hope.
In making his final point, Ramsey encouraged graduates to keep their perspectives strong through knowledge, time and a spiritual walk.
“Don’t lose your hope,” he urged. “Hope is not a political slogan. It’s a spiritual walk. It’s a rule of success.”
In presenting Ramsey with the honorary degree, Maryville College President Dr. Gerald Gibson explained the College’s long history with the family of the radio and TV host.
Ramsey’s great-grandmother, Nita Eckles West, started the drama department at the College in 1899 and taught drama and speech for 42 years. He is a cousin to local businessman and MC Board member Steve West and a nephew to alumna Lynn Ramsey Cole ’68, both of whom were in attendance at the graduation ceremonies.
Pointing to the Clayton Center for the Arts being constructed in a location behind the seated graduates, faculty and staff and guests, Gibson shared that members of the Ramsey and West families made a donation to the project, requesting that the stage in the main performance hall bear the name of Nita Eckles West.
Following the presentation of diplomas, Gibson read his charge to the Class of 2009, urging its members to leave the College as transformed individuals.
“If we have done our work well, you leave us better than you were, and surer of who you are. You leave with a greater store of knowledge, yes, but of even larger import, with sharper skills of communication and problem-solving; with enhanced ability to discriminate between the bad and the good, the ugly and the beautiful, the false and the true.
“ … I charge you, Class of 2009,” he said, “to preserve in your hearts the lessons and epiphanies that have been the instruments of your transformation from what you were at the start to the graduates you are on this commencement day and to use them to make the world a better place for your children and grandchildren and the Maryville College students who will come after you in the line.”
During commencement exercises, six faculty and staff members were recognized for outstanding service during the 2008-2009 academic year.
The Outstanding Teacher Award, the recipient of which is nominated by juniors and seniors at the College, went to Dr. John Gallagher, associate professor of business.
Gallagher, who joined the faculty in 1998, also received the award in 2001.
Dr. Karen Beale, assistant professor of psychology, was recognized as the runner-up for the award. She joined the faculty in 2006.
Receiving the Nancy B. Hunter Outstanding Staff Award was Micki Pruitt, office manager and English as a Second Language coordinator in the College’s Center of International Education. Vandy Kemp, vice resident and dean of students, was named Outstanding Administrator. Sports information director and 1988 alumnus Eric Etchison was presented the Sharon A. Murphy Crane Distinguished Service Award.
Eighty-six graduates receiving diplomas May 17 graduated with honors, requirements for which include a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.4 for all work undertaken. Eighteen of that number graduated summa cum laude, requiring a GPA of 3.95 or above.
The Rev. Dr. S. Marc Sherrod, pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church in Kingston, Tennessee, spoke at this year’s baccalaureate ceremony, held before commencement in Cooper Athletic Center. Sherrod is the father of graduating senior Hannah Sherrod and sophomore Jordan Sherrod. The baccalaureate service also included an address from the 2009 Class President, Nina Verevkina, and a scripture reading from RaeKenya Walker.