Citizen Tribune: Alexander addresses WSCC grads

Posted on May 9, 2015

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander gave the commencement address to the nearly 700 graduates of the Walters State Community College on Saturday.

WSCC’s 48th commencement exercise took place Saturday at the Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center.

Alexander said his late friend, author Alex Haley, loved commencement exercises.

“Everyone is so happy,” Alexander quoted Haley as saying. “If he were here today, he’d say ‘you don’t know how lucky you are to have each other.’”

The senator said while he occupied the governor’s mansion, his family entertained many guests, including a president and Captain Kangaroo, but for his children, Haley was a favored guest because he spent the time looking for the special spark in each.

Alexander said Haley lived by these words, “find the good and praise it.”

The senator credited Greene County entrepreneur Scott Niswonger, who introduced Alexander, with expanding the size of the WSCC college in Greene County.

The Niswonger Educational Foundation scholarship created in 2001, created opportunities for individual and regional growth through educational programs, and currently has 20 Niswonger Scholars in universities across America.

But in additional to his introduction of Alexander, Niswonger was attending the celebration for another reason — he was a proud grandfather attending the graduation of his grandson, Treavor Gentry, a Walters State dual enrollment student who was earning his associates degree before graduating from Jefferson County High School.

Gentry will follow in Niswonger’s footsteps by transferring to Purdue University to major in sales and marketing.

Alexander said the complexity of the 108-question FAFSA form has discouraged many from even attempting to go to college.

The senator said the president of Southwest Community College in Memphis believes he is losing hundreds of students each semester because of the form.

“I introduced legislation in Congress to cut these 108 questions down to two questions,” Alexander said.

If passed, the form would go from several pages down to the size of an index card, which Alexander said “would help more students take advantage of Tennessee Promise.”

Alexander praised the graduating students.

The senator said his grandfather didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, but he made sure his daughter, Alexander’s mother, did. She attended Maryville College, where she met her future husband.

“I admired my grandfather Rankin and I listened to him,” the senator said. “He would always tell me this, “‘aim for the top. There’s more room there.’

“I followed that advice, and obviously, so have you. Because of your time at Walters State, you will have a new stepping stone to a brighter future. You have more capacity now to make a good living, raise a family, to make a contribution to your community, and to your state, and, perhaps, to the world.

“Congratulations. We are proud of you. Keep aiming for the top and find the good and praise it,” Alexander said.

Following the address, WSCC President Wade B. McCamey conferred 84 technical certificates, two academic certificates, 206 Associated of Applied Science degrees, 353 Associate of Science degrees, 31 Associate of Arts degrees, two Associate of Fine Art degrees and 17 Associate of Science Teaching degrees to the WSCC graduating class of 2015.