Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Fall 2017 Outstanding Graduate Nominees

As we celebrate Fall Graduation 2017, we are reminded that every student walking across the stage faced unique challenges. Much hard work was required for them to arrive at a degree. Each student has a set of personal accomplishments and dreams for the future. Here are the stories of the three Outstanding Graduate nominees.

 Joanne Layton admits that she slept through her high school American History class. Now she says that American History fascinates her. “I yell at the TV news about things I know from class. I got so much out of it.”

Joanne will be graduating from Vol State at the age of 62.  Age buys plenty of perspective when it comes to college. “When you’re young you don’t appreciate education.”
She had a long career at AT&T, rising to management, all without a college degree. A forced retirement left her in a fix. “I found it difficult to find employment doing anything because I didn't have a college degree. When I worked with AT&T I handled projects with multi-million dollar budgets. I had all of this experience and I wanted to use it. It was demeaning.”
One company even suggested she seek employment as a hotel maid. Joanne had another idea. “My Vol State degree is in computer information technology. My AT&T experience was all main frame. Now I’m working with client-server and networking.”
The road to that degree wasn’t easy. She had to cope with the death of her brother, and her mother-in-law coming to live with her and her husband, Bruce. “He has been extremely supportive. My kids are very proud and supportive of me.”
That includes one son who actually attended Vol State at the same time as his mom. “My son thought it was cool. We were both inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success together, which was fun.”
Joanne plans to use her degree and IT certifications to have a different job search this time, one where her years of experience will actually be considered. In the meantime, she is simply proud to be graduating. “I was one of five kids. I’m the first to get a college education. When we were growing up girls just didn't get to go to college.”


Matthew Miller is a Tennessee Promise graduate who says his reason for attending college is simple: “I just wanted to get something more out of life. Tennessee Promise gave me the opportunity to get a quality first two years of education for free.”
His 3.9 GPA is just one number to consider when it comes to his future. Matthew is an accounting major.
“I like the numbers and the challenge,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed business. I like the aspect that you can see how a business is succeeding or failing with numbers.”
Matthew will take that ambition to Austin Peay University in the spring where he plans to pursue a degree and a certification in personal or managerial accounting.
Faculty member John Hoover nominated Matthew. “His academic work has always been exceptional. He has always been engaged and attentive….He will, in all likelihood, have a great career as a practicing account.


Many students travel to take advantage of a college opportunity. Anuradha Nugawela voyaged for more than 9,000 miles to make his dreams come true.
“I came to the United States on a student VISA,” he said. “Sri Lanka had a war going on and my parents didn’t have money for college. I always wanted to come to the United States, since I was a kid.”
Flash forward several years and Anuradha faced a new challenge at Vol State- and this time it wasn't a geographical or cultural struggle, but rather one that many adult students face.
“I was pretty nervous at first. I didn't know how to balance school, being a dad and work. I just put my head down and studied hard.”
He majored in information systems at Vol State and the hard work has paid off. He’s graduating with honors, the result of a 4.0 GPA. His wife Kaitlyn, and his three year-old daughter Harper, will celebrate with him. And then it’s off to the next leg of his journey at Middle Tennessee State University.
“I want to do my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree together. I want to study data science and predictive analysis. My dream job would be to work for a sports franchise.”

The Outstanding Graduate award will be announced at the ceremony on December 16 at 10 a.m. Commencement will be streamed live at www.volstate.edu/graduation

Congratulations to all of the Fall 2017 graduates.

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