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University of Tennessee 2017 Graduation

Phil Bredesen—Tennessee’s 48th governor—received an honorary degree from UT Knoxville at the graduate hooding ceremony Thursday evening.

Chancellor Beverly Davenport presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Science and Laws degree. He then addressed the more than 400 students receiving master’s and doctoral degrees.

“While I was governor, I learned a lot about the university and came to have enormous respect for the institution, and this means a lot to me for that reason,” Bredesen said.

Chancellor Davenport noted his lasting contributions to the state. “Governor Bredesen’s leadership and service to our state improved the quality of life for all Tennesseans,” Davenport said. “For his lasting contributions to education, health care, and economic development, it is fitting that we honor Phil Bredesen with an honorary doctorate of science and laws from Tennessee’s land-grant top public university.”

Bredesen encouraged the graduates to see their careers and lives as drafts they are always refining.

“The first draft of anything is usually way off. . .. And this is true for nearly every area of work and life,” he said, citing several examples of the names of characters in popular movies and books and even pop and rock bands. “Over the years, I have observed that the most successful people do not get hung up on getting everything right the first time—that paralyzes you. The trick of most successful people is to act, to get that first draft down.”

He then asked the graduates to use their good education and hard work.

“I believe that good fortune puts on us an extra obligation to give back and to help others. I hope that you enjoy all of the good things that your lives are going to offer but I also ask that you lend a hand to those who may have gotten a different deal of the cards,” he said.

Bredesen earned a degree in physics from Harvard in 1967 and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years before moving to Nashville in 1975. He and his wife, Andrea Conte, founded HealthAmerica Corp. in Nashville, an insurance company that grew to employ more than 6,000 employees. He later served as mayor of Nashville for two terms and as Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011.

While Bredesen was governor, his interest in science led him to work closely with UT’s leaders on expanding the opportunities stemming from the management partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He helped established the state-funded UT-ORNL Governor’s Chairs Program, which now funds 15 world-renowned scholars. During his final year in office, Bredesen helped UT to form a new interdisciplinary doctoral program in energy sciences.

On Thursday, he said that he has declined proposals to name buildings, roads, bridges, virtually anything in his honor, except UT’s program. The Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education is now one of the fastest growing energy graduate programs in the nation and enrolls the nation’s most promising scholars. He visits campus often to mentor students and contribute to the policy aspects of the curriculum. Bredesen Center Director Lee Riedinger joined Davenport and Interim Provost John Zomchick in the ceremonial hooding.