CU hands out 381 degrees plus one honorary

Perhaps two future graduates of Cumberland University received their first impressions of higher education, watching as caps flew high, Saturday during the 167th commencement ceremony in Dallas Floyd Gymnasium.
May 4, 2009


Perhaps two future graduates of Cumberland University received their first impressions of higher education, watching as caps flew high, Saturday during the 167th commencement ceremony in Dallas Floyd Gymnasium.
Two graduating fathers carried their babies with them when they went on stage to receive their degrees, prompting Cumberland President Dr. Harvill Eaton to comment that he "hoped they would be returning in about 18 years."
This first for the university was perhaps just one of several indicators during the day that the rain did little to dampen the spirit of the 2,500 guests in the Dallas Floyd Gym or the 300 others in Baird Chapel, watching on television monitors.
"It was a hard decision to make because it limited the families and guests to three tickets per student," said Eaton. "But there was nothing else we could do because the rains just kept coming down, and the lawn was so soaked that even if the rain had quit in time for the commencement, the ground was too saturated."
So, the parade of family and friends just kept coming, carrying bottles of water, cups of coffee and grasping their sacred ticket in their hands. Inside the gym, pictures were being taken, people greeting people and audibly, it was difficult to hear over the music playing and people talking. But, it was obvious it was a very special day.
Following the prelude performance of a couple of numbers by the university's Brass Choir with Joe Murphy conducting, the processional got under way.
The first dignitary was Winston P. Bone III, who was named Macebearer this year for his family's four generations of service to Cumberland.. Next, the Honor Guard featured the Student Government Officers for the 2009-2010 year: Keeley Locke, Drew Jennings, Gloria Caples and Samatha Knowles.
The flags of the United States of America, the State of Tennessee and Cumberland University were carried and accompanied the procession of those representing each Academic School of the University. They included Prof. Beverly Swisshelm, Labry School of Business and Technology; Prof. Faye McRady, Jeanete C. Rudy School of Nursing; Prof. Stuart Harris, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Glenn Martin, School of Music and the Arts and Prof. George Walker, School of Education.
Other members of the Academic Procession, including university officials like Eaton, dignitaries and honorees comprised the Platform Party and representatives of the Board of Trust.
Dr. Wilbur Peterson, vice president for academic affairs, made the Announcement of Assembly and declared the 167th exercises open. The Rev. Stephen Handy, of Pickett Rucker Methodist Church, delivered the invocation. This was followed by a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" by the Cumberland Chorale and University Singers with Prof. Brian Kilian conducting.
Eaton, the 25th president of Cumberland, was introduced.
"In this ceremony, we hope you will remember this day as a wonderful day in spite of all the rain.," he said. "Our special guest here today and I wrote a few lines that express our feelings. They go 'it may be dripping on your head, but there's sunshine in your hearts.'"
"We are so proud of commencement. It is a time of beginning, and we hope you have benefitted from your time here. It is our celebration because we have learned and benefitted from you. Our theme today is Catching Dreams. Please reflect on how we've helped you capture your dreams and let us know down the line how it worked out."
Eaton then introduced Dr. Edward Thackston, who spoke on behalf of the Board of Trust; Prof. Curry Dudley, who spoke for the Faculty Senate, and Prof. Rick Bell, who represented the Alumni Board. Six prestigious awards were then announced, including the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Community Award, which was presented to the Rev. Kenneth Tramel for his unwavering commitment to the spiritual lives of the students.
Following a performance of a special number by graduating seniors Jenna Monroe, Rachael Morris, Ashley Nilles and Julie Turner, Eaton got down to the business of conferring an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on Lebanon's celebrity songwriter, Claude "Curly" Putnam.
"We're going to be honoring a man who had dreams and caught them," Eaton said. "He's penned some of the most enduring songs ever and maintains an enduring family. His songs hurt and sometimes make you cry, but they also make you feel good."
Segments from some of Putnam's songs – "Green, Green Grass of Home," "My Illusive Dreams," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" – were played.
Telling how Putnam had moved to Lebanon in 1972, Eaton then told how his family all pulled together to get them through the death of his grandson from cancer.
"Curly is responsible for making a lot of artists wealthy with his songs," said Eaton. "We have one here with us today whose participation is a multi-sided business, completing dreams and family." With that, he introduced Troy Tomlinson, president and CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Nashville.
"I come to honor the greatest writer in my company," Tomlinson said. "Only a precious few write songs like Curly His songs touch people like few do. He's a man of humble honesty that shows in his songs."
Tomlinson then went on to announce the formation of the Cumberland University Songwriter's Institute, "where aspiring writers will not only learn to write songs, but how to carry them further through publishing, recording, etc."
After Eaton presented the President's Award to Tomlinson, he called Putnam to the forefront for which he drew a standing ovation.
"It scares me to death to think about getting up in front  of all you people," said Putnam. "There's more people here today than lived on the mountain where I grew up. I always thought an honorary degree or award was a colonelship in something, but I found out different today."
He recognized family and friends and a songwriting friend who came in from New Hampshire to be with him on his day. He also said his wife, Bernice, "who was something under a 100," would be celebrating her birthday on Sunday and he wanted to wish her a happy birthday."
He went on to say that "he thinks he's proven he can communicate with people through the songs I've written and I know it's commonly said you can do anything you want. That's not entirely true because we do have limitations, but if you dream hard enough, you can achieve your desires."
Putnam said he had three things going for him. One was a family who respected his desire to be in the music business, Second was he had faith all around him, and third, the sense not to be afraid to fail.
"The only real failure is not trying," Putnam said as he expressed, "This has been one of the finest days of my life."
Approximately 330 students received their degrees in Saturday's graduating class, with another 51 having actually graduated in August or December of last year, or who will finish in August of this year. Since there is only one commencement ceremony a year, 381 total donned their caps and gowns on Saturday. Some received double degrees.
Dr. Paul Stumb called off each name as the School of Business grads stepped up. Dr, Carol Ann Bach handled the Jeanette C. Rudy School of Nursing students, while Dr. Laurie Dishman had the honor for  the School of Liberal Arts. Dean Ted Rose heads the School of Music and the Arts, but he had Dr. Larry Menefee announce the students from his school with his own distinctive flair, and Debbie Whitaker read off the names for the School of Education which is under the jurisdiction of Dr. K. Charles Collier.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was performed by the Cumberland Chorale and University Singers. This was followed by singing of the Cumberland University Alma Mater and the benediction given by Tramel.


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