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Graduates encouraged to ‘go all in’ at 2024 commencement

May 2024 Pellissippi State commencement
Nearly 700 students graduated from Pelllissippi State this month.

Pellissippi State Community College honored the 2024 graduating class of nearly 700 students Friday and Saturday during ceremonies at Faith Promise Church near the Hardin Valley Campus. 

Approximately 2,000 guests attended the events during the two days to honor the 693 students who received diplomas from Pellissippi State. 

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There were 277 graduates recognized with academic honors: 72 students graduated with the summa cum laude distinction (GPA of 3.9 – 4.0); 90 students graduated with the magna cum laude distinction (GPA of 3.7 – 3.89); and 115 students graduated with the cum laude distinction (3.5 – 3.69).  

Among the graduates, 23 Career Magnet Academy high school students earned associate degrees in advance of receiving their high school diplomas later this month. The students, whose school shares Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus location, attend high school and college classes simultaneously while progressing through their high school years.  

Nine veterans and 41 nursing student graduates were recognized in ceremonies earlier in the day. Speakers at the commencement ceremonies spoke on themes of kindness and success, as well as perseverance. 

Paul Fisher, a communication studies major from Knoxville, and Maria Ortiz Quinones, a psychology major from San Andres de Tumaco, Colombia, reminded graduates that success is attainable if they are willing to persevere. 

“You have all the abilities necessary to make a difference,” Fisher said. “Continue to bring your fullest self to every room you enter.”  

Ortiz’s journey as a child took her from Colombia to Ecuador before moving to the United States as a refugee. She encouraged her classmates to not let obstacles stand in their way. 

“Do not let fear keep you hiding in shadows because you have no idea the great things you can do, and how many people you will be able to help when you learn to control your fear,” she said. 

Danni Varlan, one of the 18 members of the Tennessee Board of Regents that governs the state’s community and technical colleges, encouraged students to work hard and face their challenges with a positive attitude. 

“There aren’t any shortcuts whether it is raising children, owning a business, being in a relationship, completing a degree, wanting to move up in your job or just being a friend,” she said. “Hard work pays off.”   

And Associate Professor Donn King, who will retire from Pellissippi State this summer after teaching at the school for 34 years, encouraged students to remember to value connection over content and to make plans but hold them lightly. 

“It’s not what happens to you, but what you think about what happens to you that determines your experience,” he said. “Value both connection and solitude, and value connection over the contents of life.” 

Alumna Robin Richmond, a 2014 alumna and the founder and creator of Tickled Orange Photo Booth and Sugar Mama Cotton Candy Co., explained how the relationships she began forming as a student have helped her meet her entrepreneurial goals. 

“When you find yourself at the threshold of an unexpected opportunity, or even an unpredicted challenge, you might discover that the door to the solution is actually standing wide open for you – all because you know a guy,” she said.  

Alumna Ruthie Lyons, a 2012 alumna of Pellissippi State and CEO of The Lyons Collective by Realty Executives Associates, shared her story of dropping out of college and overcoming personal obstacles before returning to college a couple of years later. 

“I dug deep and pushed myself because I was afraid of missing out on what I could be, or all that I could have, if I quit,” she said. “Whatever it is you choose to do … go all in.”