Saturday, December 13, 2008Commencement Address Given by Dr. Paul E. Stanton, Jr.
East Tennessee State University
December 13, 2008
10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Thank you, Dr. Bach. To the graduating class, your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children, other relatives, and friends. To the platform party. To the faculty and staff of ETSU. Thank you for the opportunity to step beyond my usual role in a commencement exercise today. After I had announced my retirement back in May, members of my staff convinced me to be the December commencement speaker. In October, when I decided to stay on to help the university through this budget crisis, commencement invitations had already been printed. So here I am.
But that may work to your advantage. In every letter of invitation to commencement speakers, I insist that speeches not exceed 10 minutes in length. No matter how prestigious their credentials, I never tell speakers what to say, just how long they have to say it. As one who sets the rule, I, too, must follow it. All that preliminary information doesn’t count, though. The 10-minute limit starts now.
This is not a traditional commencement speech. At least not the kind that attempts to give you advice on how to live your life. My words of advice will be few. There will be 30 of them, in fact. They are profound, I think, and not my own. They will come at the end of this brief talk.
Instead, today, I want to talk about a place. This place. This particular 366-acre piece of ground and why it is so very special. Faculty and staff tell me all the time that they hired on here with the intention of staying for five or six years and then moving on. Many of them, myself included, become so enamored with East Tennessee State University, so tied to this region, that they end up making a career here, staying through retirement, and living out their golden years. I came to Johnson City in 1985 thinking the same thing. I took a job teaching, never imagining I would one day occupy the president’s office. But my wife Nancy and I, my children Eric, Ryan, and Shelley, caught the contagion. That teaching job turned into a departmental chairmanship. The chairmanship turned into a deanship. Soon thereafter I became a vice president. And, 12 years ago, your president.
When I was Dean of the James H. Quillen College of Medicine and Vice President for Health Affairs, I often had to pick up guests of the university at Tri-Cities Regional Airport. So that they could identify me easily, I kept a sign in the trunk of my car. It’s still there. It’s our familiar ETSU logo, which so aptly celebrates our place in these mountains, and it carries the words “ETSU Pride.” Those guests would always ask about that sign, and I would say, “Let me tell you about ETSU.”
Well, you don’t have to be told about ETSU. You’ve lived it and breathed it for the past several years, on the way to this capstone achievement today. But let me tell you why this place is so special to me. That sign in the trunk of my car eventually evolved into a community awareness campaign with the theme “ETSU Pride.” That phrase is more than just a slogan. There is substance behind it. And let me tell you why, from my own 23-year association with this university.
In less than two years, we will begin a yearlong celebration of East Tennessee State University’s 100th anniversary, culminating in the fall of 2011. During that time we will reflect often on the history of ETSU, highlighting the people who envisioned greatness here, the programs that have set us apart from other regional universities, and the traditions that define us.
One of the stories I most enjoy telling involves the reason why we are here, in this particular place, and not, for