Tag Archives: Commencement

From College Drop Out to Medical School Acceptance, Life is full of Second Chances for TSU Graduate

Johnathan Fitzgerald
Johnathan Fitzgerald

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Life is about second chances. Just ask Johnathan Fitzgerald.

The soon-to-be Tennessee State University graduate has gone from college dropout to graduating with top honors as a biology major. He has already been conditionally accepted to medical school and will start in the fall of 2015.

But Fitzgerald readily admits, his journey was not always easy, and eventually found out what he was looking for was already in his own back yard.

Along the way, he attended numerous colleges, started a career and family, and ultimately dropped out of school to adopt his two-week old niece to raise as his own daughter.

“I knew I had the potential to do something great with my life,” Fitzgerald said. “My educational journey has truly been a long and arduous journey.”

The journey started in 1996 at McGavock High School for the Nashville native. He graduated with honors and was ranked in the top 11 percent of his class, while his senior class voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.”

“My goal was to go to college to become a physician and follow in the footsteps of my uncle,” said the 36 year-old Fitzgerald. “It has been a dream of mine from a very early age. I always wanted to specialize in internal medicine.”

The first leg of his journey took him to Atlanta where he attended Morehouse College and majored in pre-med. He lasted a year because he was not prepared for life so far away from home.

“I had no role model for what it took to go through pre-med classes or college life,” Fitzgerald added. “I returned home because I just didn’t have the support system I needed in Atlanta.”

His next stop was Volunteer State Community College, where he took general education classes, then transferred to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Instead of pre-med, he changed his major to music.

“I always loved music and was a musician in high school,” he said. “I played viola and was in the band, so I thought I could pursue a career in music.”

But he quickly found out that working full-time and going to school was not easy. After a series of life-changing events, he eventually dropped out of school to adopt his two-week old niece, leaving a 1.9 grade point average in his wake.

“It was not a hard decision to make to drop out of school to take care of my daughter and my family,” he said. “She needed me and, at that point, my family came first.”

For seven years, Fitzgerald continued to raise his family, adding two more children along the way, and concentrating on his business career. But there was always a “monkey on his back” nagging at him to go back to school.

In 2009, dressed in his best suit, he made the drive to Tennessee State University, a university that was right in his backyard, and one he never really considered.

“While I was growing up my father would bring me to the football games and I remember singing, ‘I’m so glad,’ and watching the band perform,” Fitzgerald said. “But I heard negative things so I didn’t give TSU a good look.”

But that first walk through the doors, he said, was like a second chance at pursuing the dream of becoming a doctor. Giving it the “old college try,” he walked into Dr. Lois Harlston’s office and told her he wanted to give his dream another shot.

Harlston, chair of the Pre-Professional Students in Health Services, helped Fitzgerald get into the dual Bachelor of Science/Doctor of Medicine (BS/MD) fast-track program with Meharry Medical College. The program prepares students to go to medical school by allowing them to study three years at TSU then enter Meharry as a first-year student. Fitzgerald was one of five students to be admitted into the program that year.

“He was very serious and had his entire education mapped out,” Harlston said. “He told me about his life struggles, but also told me he would do whatever he needed to accomplish his goals. Jonathan has far exceeded my expectations and has performed at the top-tier level.”

During his four years, Fitzgerald’s hard work has paid off. He has been named to the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, been the recipient of three TSU scholarships and, most recently, been named the Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Biology by the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences. He is also graduating with a 3.907 GPA.

It has been a very long journey for Fitzgerald to realize his educational dream and will graduate with nearly 1,000 other candidates Saturday, May 10. He is also keeping a promise he made to his mother who passed away in 2012.

“Before she died, I promised her that I would press on and become the doctor that she and my father always knew I could become,” he said. “I know she will be smiling down on me when I finally receive my diploma. All it took was a second chance, and TSU was willing to give that to me.”

 

 

READ more student success stories including:

Annette Scruggs
Karen Munoz

 

 

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

 

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

TSU Top Graduating Senior Selected to Introduce Gov. Haslam as Commencement Keynote Speaker

Annette Scruggs
Annette Scruggs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Annette Scruggs arrived in Nashville nine years ago from Georgetown, Guyana, it was a “no-brainer” when she decided to continue her education. Tennessee State University was the only university she applied to because she knew it was where she wanted to be.

“When I married my husband, I witnessed first-hand the influence the university had on his family,” said Scruggs. “He came from a long line of alumni from his mother, grandmother and great aunts. Because of that, I knew TSU was where I needed to be.”

When she first started her goal was to complete her degree, not be the best of the best, but simply do her best.

Four years later, Scruggs is the best, graduating with the highest grade point average of all the undergraduates at Spring Commencement. Because of her 3.942 GPA, a number she can readily quote, she will have the opportunity to introduce the keynote speaker, Governor Bill Haslam.

“My first thought was, ‘WOW!’ when they told me,” said the Interdisciplinary Studies major. “It is going to be quite the honor.”

Scruggs Family-5
Annette Scruggs, second from left, is surrounded by her family, (left to right) Osafa Hippolyte, Ashley Hippolyte and Meshaeh Hippolyte. All three of her children are students at Tennessee State University. (photos by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)

To begin her educational journey, Scruggs started from scratch, she said, buying a GED certificate study guide, and took the SAT practice test, scored well and took the ACT test. “It was an easy process to apply for admittance, and once I was accepted, I just pursued my degree and never looked back,” she added.

So impressed was Scruggs with TSU from the start that her children followed her to the University, including her 23-year old daughter, Ashley, who is working toward her MBA; her 20-year old son Osafa, who is a junior Human Performance and Sports Sciences major; and 17-year-old freshman son, Meshaeh, who is also a Human Performance and Sports Sciences major.

“We are all proud TSU students,” said Scruggs, who will graduate with Summa Cum Laude honors. “I think people get the wrong impression of the University but it is a great institution where the faculty always put students first.”

Initially, Scruggs was not going to “take the walk” at graduation, she said, but thought better of it, admitting not only is she doing it for herself, but her children as well.

“I brought my children to this country with me to provide a better opportunity for them,” she said. “I believe they will have all the opportunities in the world starting with a degree from Tennessee State.”

Scruggs will introduce Gov. Haslam during Tennessee State University’s spring commencement exercise on Saturday, May 10 at 9 a.m. in Hale Stadium. She then has plans to apply to law school at the Nashville School of Law.

 

READ more student success stories including:

Johnathan Fitzgerald
Karen Munoz

 

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

 

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

Gov. Bill Haslam to be TSU Commencement Speaker May 10

Governor Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Bill Haslam, the 49th Governor of the State of Tennessee, will deliver the keynote address during Tennessee State University’s spring commencement exercise on Saturday, May 10.

The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. in Hale Stadium, with the Gentry Center serving as an alternate location in case of inclement weather. This is the second year the ceremony has taken place at the newly renovated stadium with more than 1,000 candidates expected to receive diplomas.

According to TSU President Glenda Glover, Gov. Haslam has been a steadfast supporter and welcome friend of the University, as well as higher education.

“Our graduating students will be very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear him speak about his experience and can benefit from his advice,” said Dr. Glover. “His successes in both the private sector and the political arena will be invaluable to the Class of 2014 as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives. We are honored to welcome the governor to our campus.”

Born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., Haslam began serving his current term as governor on Jan. 15, 2011. A graduate of Emory University, he began his career in business, joining his father managing a small chain of gas stations. He later rose to the rank of President of Pilot Corporation, one of the fastest growing independent energy logistics companies in North America, now employing more than 24,000 people at over 650 retail locations.

In 2003, he entered into a career of politics at the urging of friends, and successfully ran for Mayor of Knoxville. Haslam served two terms from 2003 until 2011. In January 2009 he declared his candidacy for Governor. He was elected November 2, 2010, with 65 percent of the vote – winning 90 of 95 counties and securing the largest victory of any non-incumbent gubernatorial candidate in the state’s history.

Having celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary in 2013, Haslam and his wife, Crissy, have three children, a daughter-in-law, two sons-in-law and a new grandson.

For more information about commencement, visit tnstate.edu/records/commencement.

 

 

 

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

 

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

A promise fulfilled: Mother Follows Daughter’s Footsteps to College Degree

Janet-Holly_Blakemore
Janet Blakemore (left) made a promise to daughter, Holly (right) that she would finish her degree once Holly obtained her graduate degree from Tennessee State University. It is a promise Janet will fulfill when she graduates from the University Saturday, Dec. 14. (photo by Rick DelaHaya, TSU Media Relations)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –Janet Blakemore always wanted to get her college degree. But sometimes life throws you a curve and your personal aspirations are put on hold while you take care of the things that are most important.

Such as family.

Janet was a single mom to daughter Holly, who grew up in a home where education was important, especially since some of her relatives attended Tennessee State University, and she witnessed first hand all that the University had to offer.

“She would hear all the stories that my mom and her sister would tell about their experience,” said Janet. “She basically grew up on campus attending parades and football games, and she just knew it was the school for her.”

Janet, who works for the State of Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, would do anything to make sure her daughter had the opportunity to attend TSU. Divorced when her daughter was just a year old, she worked more than one job, taking on modeling assignments at locations around Tennessee.

“I wanted Holly to have the opportunities I never had,” she added. “I tried to instill in her a strong work ethic, that anything was possible if you put your mind to it. I told her I would work so she could get work.”

Because of the nature of their relationship, Janet and Holly became extremely close said Janet, so close in fact, even though they were mother and daughter, they were also like best friends.  “It was almost a oneness of spirit that was made of deep devotion, sacrifice and pain,” she beamed.

Holly eventually was accepted, and graduated from TSU in 2003 from the College of Health Sciences with a degree in Speech Language Pathology. She decided to pursue her graduate degree almost immediately.

Janet was extremely supportive of her daughter as Holly worked her way through graduate school. But she always had a nagging feeling that she wished she had completed her degree.

“I had gone to business school but it wasn’t the same,” she said. “Something was just missing.”

At one point Holly became frustrated and stressed while completing the last few classes on her master’s degree in Speech Pathology. Janet made a promise to her daughter that she never thought Holly would remember.

“I told her to finish what she started and if she did, I would go back to school and finish my degree,” Janet added, chuckling. “I never in a million years thought she would remember.”

But she did, and a promise is a promise.

“We have come from a long line of women who have been successful, and I was determined to make sure she had the same opportunity she provided for me,” said Holly. “On graduation day in 2006, I looked at her and told her, ‘your turn.’”

Janet enrolled in 2009 in the Urban Studies program in the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs, and found herself in an unfamiliar position…back in the classroom with “kids” half her age.

“I walked mom to class the first day,” said Holly. “It was a such a role reversal. She didn’t want to admit to it, but she was really nervous and I wanted to be there for her just as she had been for me. It was one of my proudest moments with my mom.”

The past four years have not always been easy, Janet said. She has dealt with personal set backs, finding the time to be a full-time student, and dealing with the demands of work. Everywhere she went she was loaded down with books so she could study, including her second job and the beauty shop.

“I’ll admit, at 55 years old it has been a tough journey,” Janet remarked. “I started out slow taking six hours and eventually built up to 12-18 hours, which was really tough. But I’ve loved every minute of it. Without the support of my daughter, the faculty at the University, and my supervisor at work, this would not have been possible.”

According to Janet, when she graduates on Saturday, Dec. 14, it will validate all her hard work, the negative criticism she received, and most importantly, that she keeps her word.

‘This has been such a blessing to me,” she said. “By obtaining this degree, it validates me in a family that believes in education. I will now be a part of the TSU family.”

But more importantly, Janet added, it validates her relationship with her daughter.

“It’s all about promises made and promise kept, she added. “There is nothing more important than that.”

 

 

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

 

 

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

Nashville Pastor Joseph Walker to Speak at TSU December Commencement

Bishop Joseph W. Walker III
Bishop Joseph W. Walker III

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –  Recognized as one of Nashville’s ministerial community’s most educated and influential leaders, Bishop Joseph W. Walker III, the charismatic pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, will be the keynote speaker when more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students receive their degrees during Tennessee State University’s fall commencement on Saturday, Dec. 14.

The commencement begins at 9 a.m. in the Gentry Center on the main TSU campus.

Walker, described as a teacher, humanitarian, philanthropist, businessman and community volunteer, has been the pastor at Mt Zion since 1992. Under his leadership, the church membership has grown from 175 when he started to 28,000. During that time, the church, considered one of the largest in the city, has expanded beyond its original location in the historic Jefferson Street corridor to seven weekly services in three locations, as well as online and through social media outlets.

Currently the Bishop of Senior Pastors in the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Walker’s leadership at Mt. Zion has also expanded to Jackson, Tenn., where the church has adopted the Zion Church.

A prolific writer, the Baton Rouge, La., native has authored eight books, including his latest, “Becoming A Couple of Destiny: Living, Loving and Creating a Life that Matters,” which he co-wrote with his wife, Dr. Stephanie Walker, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Neonatology at Vanderbilt University.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern University, a Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, and a Doctor of Ministry from Princeton University. Walker is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, and holds a governor-appointed post on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

In 2001, he launched the New Level Community Development Corporation, which aims to improve the lives of low-and-moderate-income families. He and his wife are co-founders of the non-profit, Dr. Joseph & Stephanie Walker Foundation, which is geared toward education, mentorship and outreach.

Walker, who says he believes in strong work ethic and staying busy, credits his parents, Rosa and Joseph Walker, and especially his father, Joseph Jr., with instilling in him a strong sense of discipline and business-mindedness.

“My summer days throughout most of my youth were spent working with my father,” Joseph III is quoted as saying in his online biography. “I gained my strong work ethic through that experience.”

Named by The Root as one of the 20 Top Preachers in the nation, Walker has appeared on many national TV and radio networks and programs including CNN and the CBS Morning News. He was featured in the film, Black, White and Blues, directed by award-winning Mario Van Peebles.

 

 

 

Department of Media Relations
Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209
615.963.5331

 

 

About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.