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KNOXVILLE — Graduates at the University of Tennessee Fall Commencement were encouraged to look ahead to their future, without forgetting their past.

Dr. Lorayne W. Lester

Former UT Arts and Sciences Dean Lorayne W. Lester gave the commencement address to more than 1,360 students receiving bachelors and post-graduate degrees at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Lester quoted Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” which describes all experience as an arch. The same lesson applies today, she said.

“Your time at UT, for better or worse, will forever be a part of who you are and who you will become in the years ahead. Your experiences are not behind you, they are an arch, a tunnel in front of you, and through which you will necessarily view the future,” Lester said.

Lester congratulated the students for completing their degrees in the midst of funding problems from the Tennessee state government, and the uncertainty of life following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“I am the last person to suggest that you owe the State of Tennessee anything, and I know that you will have to go where opportunity takes you in the future,” Lester said. “But it’s no exaggeration to say that this state has enormous potential. And in the future, if that opportunity or possibility arises, please think first about Tennessee.”

Lester, who began her UT career more than 40 years ago as an English instructor, repeated a line from an Emily Dickinson poem that said, “These are the days when Birds come back — a very few — a bird or two — to take a backward look,” and encouraged the graduates to do the same.

Melody Wagstaff

“You are the newest generation of Volunteers, and there is a vast unrolling of wonderful opportunities and challenges lying before you. But I charge you as you go forward into your new lives, from time to time, to remember this place, remember these times, and take a backward look.”

About 100 first-graders from Spring Hill Elementary School were on hand Friday to see their teacher, Melody Wagstaff, receive her master’s degree in elementary education from UT. The students are enrolled in a program called Project GRAD, which offers college scholarships to children from inner city schools who complete high school.

Wagstaff said she wanted her students to see a university graduation ceremony, so they will be inspired to stay in school.