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Commencement Speakers

Undergraduate Ceremony


Gov Bill Haslam photo

Governor Bill Haslam

Speaker, Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony
Friday, December 14, 9:00 a.m.

On November 4, 2014, Bill Haslam was re-elected Tennessee’s governor with the largest victory in modern Tennessee history.

Under his leadership, Tennessee is recognized as a national leader in education, economic development, efficient and effective government, and fiscal strength.

In 2013, Governor Haslam launched the Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential to 55 percent by 2025. More Tennesseans are going to college and fewer need remediation when they get there. First-time freshmen enrollment has increased 30 percent at community colleges and 32 percent at technical colleges, and the college-going rate in Tennessee increased to a high of 62.5 percent in 2015.

Tennessee students have been the fastest improving in the country in academic achievement. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, and under the Drive to 55 initiative the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs were launched, making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer high school graduates and adults two years of community or technical college free of tuition and mandatory fees.

Since Governor Haslam took office in 2011, approximately 450,000 net new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee. Last year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate reached the lowest level in state history and has remained close to that record-low rate. Tennessee has been ranked number one for advanced industry job growth, number one for jobs created through foreign direct investment, and is a three-time winner of “State of the Year” for economic development by Business Facilities magazine.

The governor worked with the Tennessee General Assembly in 2017 to pass the largest tax cut in Tennessee history while delivering a safe, reliable, and debt-free transportation system. He and his administration have cut more than $575 million in recurring spending, shrunk state government by 7 percent, balanced the budget every year, ensured Tennessee has the lowest debt in the country, and more than tripled the state’s savings account. For only the second time in state history, Tennessee has been awarded a AAA bond rating.

In 2003, Governor Haslam ran successfully for mayor of Knoxville and was re-elected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. As mayor, he balanced eight consecutive city budgets, tripled the Rainy Day Fund, focused city government on providing services in an efficient manner, helped found key education initiatives, and recruited and retained thousands of jobs to Knoxville.

He and his wife, Crissy (’85), a native of Memphis, have been married for 37 years and are blessed with three children and eight grandchildren. For more than three decades they have been members of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Knoxville where Bill serves as an elder.


Graduate Hooding

Suresh Poudel photo

Suresh Poudel

Student Speaker, Graduate Hooding Ceremony
Thursday, December 13, 4:30 p.m.

Suresh Poudel was born in a rural region of Nepal’s Kaski District, where he grew up in extreme poverty but persevered in making his way to college. At Kathmandu University, where he earned his undergraduate degree, he received both the Vice Chancellor Gold Medal and National Gold Medal for having the highest GPA in the entire university system. His first teaching position was also at Kathmandu University, in the Department of Biotechnology.

After two years of teaching, Poudel received a prestigious Quota scholarship to pursue an MSc at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He completed his degree and returned to Kathmandu University to work as a lecturer in the Department of Biotechnology, serving there for two years before being accepted for doctoral study at UT. While pursuing his PhD in the Genome Science and Technology program, he worked in Robert L. Hettich’s lab at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Poudel’s research is focused on describing microbial proteins, using mass spectrometry techniques and computational tools to understand microbial metabolism. As a student, he was first author of two papers published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels and co-author of multiple papers. He served as president of UT’s Nepali Students Association in 2016–17 and remains involved in an advisory role.

Poudel is currently a researcher in the Biosciences Division at ORNL, working to establish a platform for comprehensively studying lipids in a system. He plays several sports, including soccer, cricket, volleyball, and badminton, and maintains a connection to his home country by participating in Nepali cultural dances. He has been happily married for seven years and his wife, Pragya, is pursuing a doctoral degree in public health at UT.