Motivational Speaker Tells Tennessee State University Graduates That Achieving Greatness Requires Work

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s spring undergraduate commencement speaker told graduates that each of them is born with greatness, but to achieve it requires work.

TSU President Glenda Glover presents a plaque to spring undergraduate commencement, Dr. Eric Thomas. (Photo by Courtney Buggs, TSU Media Relations)

“Greatness is not free, it comes with a price tag,” said nationally-recognized motivational speaker, Dr. Eric Thomas, as more than 800 graduates in different disciplines prepared to walk across the aisle to receive their degrees.

Among the graduates were the grandmother/granddaughter pair of Theresa Lyles, 68, and Zuri Lyles, 22, who received their bachelor’s degrees in sociology and health information management, respectively. Read their story at

Also at the spring graduation, university officials posthumously presented degrees to the families of two students who died few months before they were to graduate. Bethany Morse, 34, a non-traditional student, died Feb. 2, 2018. Her bachelor’s degree was in social work. The other student, Denise McGarity Sampson, 22, died Nov. 27, 2017. She earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Called the “Hip Hop Preacher” for his creative style and high-energy speeches, Thomas drove home his usual message on success that “when you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

To Saturday’s graduates, Thomas said “work,” “think” and “service” are the greatest assets to achieving greatness.

President Glenda Glover posthumously presaents Denise McGarity Sampson’s degree to her family. McGarity, an engineering major, died Nov. 27, 2017. (Photo by Courtney Buggs, TSU Media Relations)

“To activate the greatness in you, it requires you to work to achieve your dream,” he said. “Some days you might not feel like getting up but your dream will make you get up. …it will push you. With your education, you have an opportunity of a lifetime. Surround yourself with people who believe in your dream.”

Prior to Thomas’ speech, TSU President Glenda Glover congratulated the graduates and parents for their achievement.

“This is your day,” said Glover. “We thank you, and we’re depending on you to continue the tradition of excellence.”

Ra’Shunda Hackett, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology, said Thomas reiterated the lessons she learned at TSU.

“TSU’s motto is ‘Think, Work and Serve.’ This university was a dream school, and I am not disappointed that I chose to come here,” said Hackett, of Birmingham, Alabama, who came to TSU on a Presidential Scholarship. “I am extremely excited and thankful to the many at TSU who helped me along the way.”

Hackett, who serves as an AmeriCorps member with Impact America, will intern with Cigna, a global health insurance service company.

Between its graduate commencement, which took place Friday, and its undergraduate commencement, TSU graduated more than 1,000 students. And officials say a “substantial number,” like Hackett, have already gotten job or internship offers.

Among them is Emmanuel Gyang of Nashville, who received his bachelor’s degree in engineering. He is heading to Bank of America in Dallas as a systems engineer in the company’s data center.

“I feel blessed to be graduating with a job with a company like Bank of America,” he said. “I owe it to TSU for the preparation I received in the classroom and from TSU’s Career Development Center. They definitely honed me to be the person I am today. They taught me how to carry myself in a more professional manner.”

Recent data comparison shows that TSU is on an upward trajectory when it comes to job placement for new graduates.

Within three months of receiving their degrees, nearly 52 percent of students who graduated in December had received “some form of employment opportunities,” according to the Career Development Center. That’s just 6 percent shy of the national average of graduates who had jobs within six months of graduation, according to College Track, an online database that guides parents and students in college selection.

Last year, TSU received a $2 million career development grant from the United Negro College Fund. The money gave the Career Development Center staff the tools to prepare and ultimately help TSU students secure employment immediately upon graduation.

Department of Media Relations

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About Tennessee State University

With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. 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