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UT Commencement speaker and ORNL director, Thom Mason, addresses graduates.
UT Commencement speaker and ORNL director, Thom Mason, addresses graduates.

KNOXVILLE — Our world has big problems and we need intelligent, educated people to solve them.

That was the message shared by Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who addressed approximately 1,000 University of Tennessee, Knoxville, undergraduate students who participated in fall commencement today at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“Some of you are headed to graduate school, others to new jobs and still others to military service,” he said. “And I expect some of you are still looking for jobs in a very tough economic climate. But history shows that your education provides you with an overwhelming advantage.”

History shows that an educated populace can turn hard times into better times. He cited a Harvard economist who looked at high school graduation rates before, during and after the Great Depression. The graduation rates rose between the 1920s and 1940s, and those skilled workers helped the U.S. win World War II and lead the country into a booming, postwar economy.

“In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik satellite, the United States responded with a massive

UT graduates celebrate at Sunday's commencement ceremony.
UT graduates celebrate at Sunday's commencement ceremony.

investment in science, technology and education,” he continued. “The return on that investment includes the personal computer with its graphical user interface, global positioning systems, the laser printer, cell phones and a lot of other electronic gadgets that we use every day that underpin our economy.

“Today, we need a new set of skilled workers to tackle the challenge of transforming our energy system.”

Mason went on to detail a global energy problem, saying that economic development and population growth are causing increased energy demands. The solution, he said, is better use of sustainable energy sources and new technologies to harness that power.

“To fundamentally transform our global energy system, we need major breakthroughs in science and technology,” Mason said. “To take one obvious example, the Earth’s surface receives more solar energy in an hour than we are currently using in a year. But we don’t have the technology needed to capture, store and distribute solar energy at a cost that can compete with conventional grid-supplied energy.”

Mason encouraged graduates in all disciplines to work toward a solution to this problem, saying that everyone can help; from entrepreneurs who can take breakthroughs to the marketplace to communicators to spread the news about energy solutions to architects who can design energy-efficient buildings.

A UT graduate's decorated mortarboard.
A UT graduate's decorated mortarboard.

“Whatever you choose to do, I suggest that you look for challenging problems to solve,” he said. “Work that demands your best effort is a great deal more rewarding than something that is trivial or easy.”

On Friday, students receiving advanced degrees were recognized in a graduate hooding ceremony. There were 517 receiving master’s degrees and 68 receiving doctorate degrees.

During today’s commencement, six students received commissions as second lieutenants in the United States Army.

More than 2,800 students were eligible to participate in today’s commencement which combines graduates from the summer and fall terms. The graduate and undergraduate ceremonies can be viewed in an archived webcast.

Click here to listen to an audio report on Mason’s address.

View photos from the event.

C O N T A C T :

Beth Gladden (865-974-9008,