Pellissippi State commencement features East Tennessee education leader

Oliver 'Buzz' Thomas

Oliver "Buzz" Thomas

Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, president of The Great Schools Partnership in Knoxville, will be the guest speaker at Pellissippi State Community College’s spring commencement on May 7.

Graduate Mary Denman, a member of the All-USA Community College Academic Team, will be the college’s student speaker. Pam Fansler, East Market President of First Tennessee Bank, will address the graduates on behalf of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Commencement starts at 7 p.m. Friday, May 7, at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville. Pellissippi State will award 882 degrees this year.

Thomas, a Maryville native, is responsible for leading private-sector efforts to help Knox County reach its goal of having a school system that is globally competitive.

He also co-chairs the Public School Forum of East Tennessee and is a member of Tennessee State Collaboration on Reforming Education (SCORE) Steering Committee. SCORE is an initiative spearheaded by former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist focused on long-term educational change in Tennessee to ensure every child graduates high school prepared for college or a career.

Thomas was formerly executive director of the Niswonger Foundation, which is a private foundation Thomas helped create with businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger in 2001. Before coming to the Niswonger Foundation he served two terms on the Maryville City Schools Board of Education, including three years as its chairman.

He is also an attorney, minister and a columnist for USA Today.

Thomas co-authored “The Right to Religious Liberty” and “Finding Common Ground,” which is the First Amendment handbook endorsed by the Department of Education and used in many of the nation’s public schools. He is a graduate of UT and the University of Virginia Law School.

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