Tennessee Alumnus

It’s Tassel Time in Tennessee

It’s commencement season—the time that reminds university leaders of their main reason for being: changing lives through higher education.

Swing by a college campus this month, and chances are you’ll see caps, gowns, hugs and smiles. I know I will. Yet, after 20 years and watching tens of thousands turn the tassels, I still appreciate what a milestone moment graduation is—not only because my own graduation was a milestone but because, eventually, it made possible the unique privilege I now have in serving as head of a statewide university system that produces about 10,000 new graduates every year.

My predecessor, former UT President Jan Simek, used to refer to our campuses as “dream factories,” and he was right. At commencement ceremonies, families celebrate watching dreams come true and dreams taking flight.

After hope of future employment, the other reasons for seeking college degrees are as varied as the people who seek them. And today, our students run the gamut: traditional, military veterans, returning and nontraditional students, busy professionals, the growing number of online students meeting in cyberspace, and so on.

Some seek financial security. Some are the first in their families to go to college. Some want greater career opportunity. Some need personal fulfillment. Some have a college degree as a goal. Some will change their minds and change their majors.

All the above and more are on our campuses and, this month, a few thousand will be moving on, making way for a few thousand more to come. What they’ll all have in common, I hope, is a life-changing experience for the better, brought to them by the transformative power of higher education.

Both my parents were first-generation Americans, first-generation college students and 100 percent believers in the value of education. It was assumed that my siblings and I would go to college, and all four of us did and are grateful for the opportunity to have done so.

I hope you are, too, and that you never lose the ability to appreciate the milestones all around us this commencement season.

All the best,


Joe DiPietro

Dr. Joe DiPietro has served as UT president since January 2011.