For some, the anticipation of commencement ceremonies at Arkansas Tech University on Saturday, Dec. 15, was overwhelming.
“The nerves…I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Jarred Thommen, who was the first graduate in line at Tucker Coliseum for the 10 a.m. ceremony. “I was up until 2 a.m. I only got a few hours sleep, but around 7 a.m. I figured I might as well get ready and get here. I had all these things in my mind…I was really excited.”
Thommen’s degree was one of 1,146 academic credentials received by ATU graduates during ceremonies closing the fall 2018 semester.
He originally intended to be a nuclear physics major, but he switched along the way and received his Bachelor of Science degree in geology on Saturday morning.
“I’ve learned so much that it’s hard to even count all the different ways that Tech has affected me,” said Thommen, who was among approximately 250 ATU graduates wearing first generation graduate stoles atop their graduation robes on Saturday. “The curriculum is strong and the professors in geology are very thorough, helpful and generous with their time. If I ever had any questions, they would be right there to help me and guide me through it."
Thommen pointed to geology faculty members Dr. Jason Patton, Dr. Michael Davis and Dr. Jacob Grosskopf as the most influential mentors during his studies at ATU.
Originally from Salisbury, Conn., Thommen said his first choice is to remain in Arkansas to begin his career, possibly with the state government or an environmental consulting agency.
“It’s surreal that it’s even come to this point,” said Thommen when asked about receiving his degree. “It’s been three long years. This is the fulfillment of a dream that I set out for myself. I wanted to become a scientist, and I did it. It means more to me than anything. It’s a testament to my perseverance through everything.”
Anna Holt also knows about perseverance. A family illness and a subsequent desire to remain close to home were among the reasons she chose Arkansas Tech. The support network she found on campus helped her persist to earn a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree.
“(ATU) grew on me,” said Holt, who resides in Conway. “I made a lot of friends here. It just fit. All of the professors have been there for me, even in hard times. I think that’s what kept me here, going to school and striving to finish. I wanted to finish what I started no matter how hard the struggle was.”
Holt described mechanical engineering faculty members Dr. John Krohn and Dr. Ehsan Hosseini as being “understanding and patient” in helping her achieve her academic goals. She has accepted a job as an engineer for Plastic Ingenuity Inc.
“It’s a big relief,” said Holt of commencement day. “It has been such a long road, and I think for me it’s more than just the degree. It’s a big milestone in my life, and it’s something that I was able to reach. It’s a confidence thing for me and proving to myself that I could do it.”
Margaret Whitfield hopes the Bachelor of Science degree in hospitality administration that she received from ATU on Saturday provides other non-traditional students with confidence.
“I’m setting the example that it’s never too late to go back and get an education,” said Whitfield. “I’ve made great friends, I’ve had great teachers and I’ve enjoyed the entire experience. Today means that I complete a goal that I set, and it sets me up for a better rest of my life.”
Whitfield began college in 2003. After shepherding her children to their teenage years, she enrolled at Arkansas Tech and met hospitality administration faculty member Susan West.
“She is awesome,” said Whitfield when asked about West. “She’s crazy and she’s great. We love her. It’s her personality and the way she teaches. It’s everything.”
Whitfield has a career goal of working in hotel management.
Karmen Stephens’ career path will begin as a supervisor in training for Tyson Foods at its Dardanelle facility. She earned that opportunity by completing the ATU Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture business with an emphasis in animal science.
“I made it,” said Stephens. “It’s been a long four years and a stressful four years, but I’m thankful for every obstacle and challenge that I was faced with because I was able to overcome them and get to graduation.”
Stephens, who is from Little Rock, was one of seven fall 2018 ATU graduates who completed the steps necessary to earn the Tradition Keeper designation from the ATU Alumni Association.
As a result, she, Angela Barraza, Bailey Harris, Jaelyn Herrera, Ty Reasnor, Hannah Simmons and Esther White wore special green cords during their commencement ceremonies.
Nate Robertson chose an even more personal accessory for his graduation regalia.
A product of Paris, Robertson received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree on Saturday morning while displaying a message atop his cap that shared the philosophy that propelled him to commencement day. It read: you only fail when you stop trying.
“The secret to getting through college is not being the smartest person,” said Robertson, “it’s seeing how many times you can get knocked down and keep going.”