East Tennessee State University was a packed place on Saturday morning and afternoon, as commencement ceremonies honoring their most recent graduates took place, with one at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. in the mini dome.
Among the 1,404 graduates, there were 1,049 bachelor’s degrees, 302 master’s degrees, as well as doctoral degrees.
Doctoral degree recipient in environmental health sciences Kimberlee Hall is the first person to receive a doctorate in her field of study at ETSU.
“It’s nice to be part of what I hope becomes an awesome tradition. It’s a great program,” Hall said. “It’s very well-known for its bachelor’s and master’s programs, so it’s really exciting to have a doctoral program start up and very exciting to be the first one to kind of have a role in developing that program.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University in biology with a focus on ecology and environmental sciences, she said she decided to come to ETSU for her master’s, which later gave her the opportunity to continue on for her doctorate.
“They got the Ph.D. program approved and started up, so I was fortunate enough to roll over the research I was doing. I knew I wanted the Ph.D. anyway and I got really fortunate to be in a place I loved, working with people that I respect and appreciate for all of their efforts, so it was a no-brainer to stay,” Hall said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to finally see the light at the end of that tunnel and to look back at all of that time and all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the research and the course work.”
She said she has already accepted an associate professor position at the University of Findlay in Ohio and will be part of their environmental safety and occupational health program.
Andrew Aguayo said walking across the stage would certainly be a special moment for him, as he is the first one from his family to graduate from a four-year institution.
“It’s going to mean a lot to represent my family,” he said.
Aguayo came to ETSU from Bakersville, N.C., to pursue the digital media program at ETSU, a program he said he’s enjoyed.
“It’s been pretty good. I’ve been here about five years, but it’s been good all around and I’ve learned a lot from all my professors,” he said.
He said he was also able to make some good friends and participate in ETSU sponsored events, such as free movie nights and basketball games.
Aquayo said he’s currently searching for a job in the animation field.
Nursing students Heather Davis and Tiffany Ricks were both excited and ready to get things underway Saturday and to, most importantly, walk across the stage.
Davis, who had been working as an LPN for the past 10 years in home health care, decided to go back to school for her bachelor’s degree.
As a single mom of two, she said it’s definitely been a struggle at times, but she’s had a lot motivation to keep going.
“I lost my mom about 16 years ago to cancer and she’s been my driving force through this and got me through,” she said. “She’s been my inspiration.”
When asked about what was next for her, Davis said she’s looking forward to working, spending time with her children and possibly even going on a vacation.
“I’m just excited to be finished and to show my kids that I can do it,” she said.
Ricks said it was hard to put into words what graduating Saturday meant to her, but did add that it was one of the best feelings she’s ever had.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I’m definitely incredibly proud of all that we’ve accomplished. We’ve been through a lot in the nursing program,” she said. “My whole life has been to get to this point. I took classes in middle school to get ready for nursing, so 18 years of schooling to this moment, it’s going to be pretty big.”
With a nursing job already lined up, Ricks said she’s looking forward to diving in and immersing herself into her work, but has a plan of someday going back to school to work on a doctorate degree to be a family nurse practitioner.
She said overall she has definitely enjoyed her time at ETSU.
“I’ve just had so many wonderful experiences. I can definitely say it’s been the best four and a half years of my life,” Ricks said.