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Commencement Speakers Spring 2018

College of Arts & Sciences

John ForgetyRepresentative John Forgety knows education. For 40 years, he occupied a variety of roles in public education, including superintendent of schools for 16 years. In 2006, he received the Southeast District Superintendent of the Year award and in 2007, Superintendent of the Year award for the state of Tennessee.

Forgety served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018. He was chairman of the Instruction and Programs Committee and a member of the House Civil Justice Committee. During his time in Tennessee leadership, Forgety received several awards, including Legislator of the Year from the Tennessee School Health Coalition in 2017, and Legislative Leadership Award Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents in 2012 and 2016.

Forgety spent four years as a letterman football player at Maryville College, where he received his BS in health and physical education. He attended Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee, and earned his MA and EdS in education administration and supervision before going on to Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for his EdD in education leadership.

Forgety is retired from 20 years of service in the Tennessee Army National Guard, but at age 58, he was called to active duty in Iraqi Freedom III Operation Thunder Road. He served for 19 months in Diyala Province, Iraq, and received the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, Legion of Merit, and Distinguished Service Medal.

Forgety lives in Athens, Tennessee, with his wife Faye. He is a member of the First Baptist Church in Etowah, active in his community, and received the McMinn County Man of the Year award in 2006.

College of Architecture + Design

Percy Neal RichardsonPercy Neal Richardson is a graduate of the first five-year class of the University of Tennessee’s School of Architecture from 1965–1970. Neal’s formal education as an architect and his informal education by the society around him lead him to have a professional career that extended over four decades. He worked as the architect of record on numerous projects that continue to have a positive impact on the communities in which he practiced. He was a principal of Upland Design Group which today remains a leading practice in middle and east Tennessee.


Haslam College of Business

Scott NiswongerScott Niswonger was born in Van Wert, Ohio, where he learned to fly, soloing on his 16th birthday. During his aviation career, he has flown everything from J-3 Cubs to the Boeing 747. He currently enjoys flying his Gulfstream IV and his aerobatic Navy T-34 trainer.

Niswonger graduated from Purdue University with a degree in aviation technology and was awarded a Doctorate of Technology in 2004. He earned a BSBA in 1986 from Tusculum College, which awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2006.

After graduation from Purdue, Niswonger moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, as the corporate pilot for the president of the Magnavox Company. In 1973, Niswonger started a cargo airline, General Aviation Inc. After selling General Aviation he became the vice president of North American operations for Flying Tiger Lines, a military contractor and global cargo airline. He later co-founded a second transportation company, Landair Services, with an initial investment of $2,000, and in 1990 formed Forward Air Corporation. Those companies today have annual sales of over $1 billion.

Niswonger currently serves as executive chairman of Landair Transport Inc. and chairman emeritus of Forward Air Corporation. He is a member of the executive committee and board of directors of First Horizon National Corporation, a $40 billion financial services company and the parent organization of First Tennessee Bank. He is chairman of Tennessee State University board of trustees and a 30-year trustee of Tusculum College. At Purdue University he is a member of the Presidents Executive Council, Deans Council for Purdue University Polytechnic Institute, and Chairman of Purdue Aviation.

He is especially proud of the Niswonger Educational Foundation, which he established in 2001 to create opportunities for individual and regional growth through educational programs, scholarships, and other charitable activities. This educational operating foundation currently has 20 scholars in universities across America and 67 alumni. The foundation has an annual program budget of more than $3 million.

Niswonger is the lead benefactor for Niswonger Children’s Hospital, home to one of only eight St. Jude affiliate clinics in the world.

College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Colleen Cruze BhattiColleen Cruze Bhatti is the driving force behind Cruze Farm in Knoxville. She grew up on her family’s fifth-generation dairy farm in east Knox County and learned all about milking cows and bottling milk from her parents, Earl and Cheri. After graduating from UT with a bachelor’s in agricultural science in 2011, she applied her college education to her family’s business, expanding their farm bottling operation into a larger-scale milk distribution service and adding a brick-and-mortar ice cream and pizza shop. Cruze Farm now distributes fresh pasteurized milk to Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and the Tri-Cities, makes premium soft-serve ice cream which it sells from its storefront, and employs around 30 fellow Knoxvillians. Bhatti and her husband, Manjit, are raising their children, Amery and William, on the family dairy farm in hopes that they will carry on the family business for another generation.


College of Communication and Information

Larry Patrick

Larry Patrick is managing partner of Patrick Communications, a media investment banking and brokerage firm based in Maryland with over $7.5 billion worth of deals to its credit. The firm has sold over 600 radio stations and 160 television stations. Patrick also owns Legend Communications, a group of 22 small-market radio stations in Wyoming, and an interest in 14 major market television stations.

Patrick served as chairman of the board of ION Media Networks, a public company and operator of 60 full-power television stations across the country. He is also a former senior vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

He is on the board of numerous companies and charitable institutions including: a longtime member and past chair of the College of Communication and Information’s Board of Visitors, treasurer of the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation, chair of the National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, chair of the Bayliss Foundation, and past president of the Broadcast Education Association and of the National Association of Media Brokers.

Patrick has received the University of Tennessee’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, the UT College of Communication and Information’s Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award, the Broadcast Education Association’s Distinguished Education Service Award, Ohio University’s Outstanding Alumnus Award, and the Broadcasters Foundation of America’s Ward L. Quaal Leadership Award. In 2017, he was named to Tennessee Alumnus magazine’s list of the Top 100 University of Tennessee alumni. He is also a member of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media’s Hall of Fame and the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Patrick holds a PhD in communications and management from Ohio University, a JD from Georgetown University Law Center, an MS in communication from the University of Tennessee, and a BA in telecommunications from the University of Kentucky.

College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Anton ReeceFew speakers can captivate, touch, motivate, and challenge varied audiences as West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) President Dr. Anton Reece. For the past 28 years, Reece has spoken to over 600 audiences in New York, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Arizona. These speaking engagements include corporations, colleges, high schools, youth organizations, churches, and prisons and have provided him with critical material to empower others. All of these are illuminated by his rich style of articulation and homespun humor. Hailing from the Caribbean country of Barbados, Reece draws from his communication roots and skills as a former employee with the Voice of Barbados Radio and a guest anchor for the Caribbean Broadcasting Television news. In addition, he was a regular guest on WPSD TV, WKYX radio, host on Channel 2 Minority Focus, and commentator on various television and radio programs.

Reece is an honors graduate with a BA in broadcasting news and an MA in counseling student personnel from Eastern Kentucky University. He earned a PhD in educational psychology and research from UT. He spent 13 years at UT serving in various roles including coordinator of academic support, director of student activities, associate vice provost of student success, and director of the Student Success Center. Reece has a legacy of trailblazing as the first minority affairs coordinator in the University of Kentucky Community College System in 1990. From 1999–2003, he made history again by becoming the first African American dean of student affairs in Paducah Community College/Paducah Junior College history. In October 2016, Reece achieved a historic appointment as the first African American and second president of WKCTC. WKCTC is a four-time Aspen Institute finalist and currently ranks in the top 10 nationally among the nation’s 1,100 community and technical colleges.

Reece has received many awards, including UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences Educators Hall of Honor recognition, UT Dean of Students Leadership Award, UT Commission for Blacks Outstanding Service Award, EKU President’s Award for Academic Excellence, the EKU Earl Combs Outstanding Student-Athlete, the PCC Presidential Leadership Award, Academic All-American, 1982 Hampton Games International track gold medalist in the triple jump, distinguished speaker awards from many colleges and organizations, and featured in the Success Guide Magazine as an outstanding leader. He gives all praise to God for his recognition and the opportunity to serve and touch others from all backgrounds of life. Reece is married to Cornelia Reece and has two daughters, Tina and Kiana.

Tickle College of Engineering

Chad Holliday Jr.Charles O. (Chad) Holliday Jr. was elected chairman of Royal Dutch Shell in May 2015. He previously served as chairman of the board of Bank of America and as chairman and CEO of DuPont, the company from which he retired after 36 years of service.

Holliday started at DuPont as an engineer in manufacturing and served at seven different locations in multiple roles, including president of DuPont Asia Pacific, based in Tokyo. He was named CEO in 1998 and served in that role for 11 years.

Holliday currently serves on the boards of Deere & Company and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). He is a licensed professional engineer and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and the UK Royal Society of Engineering.

He has previously served as chairman of the US Council on Competitiveness, United Nations Sustainable Energy for All, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Catalyst, the US Business Council, and the National Academy of Engineering.

Holliday graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He has received honorary doctorates from Polytechnic University of New York; Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

College of Law

Justice Cheri BeasleyJustice Cheri Beasley has served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina since 2012, becoming the second African American woman to sit on the state’s highest court in its nearly 200-year history. Justice Beasley served as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and as a District Court Judge in Cumberland County. She has lectured at area law schools and national and regional conferences on leadership, criminal and civil law, and trial and appellate advocacy.

She travels extensively nationwide, as well as to Europe, Egypt, and the Caribbean to promote the rule of law and the administration of justice and the importance of an independent judiciary and fair judicial selection. Specifically, Justice Beasley has presented nationally on the analysis of Miranda rights for juveniles and taught Court Management for Assistants Heads of Courts as part of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Cairo, Egypt.

She is a graduate of Douglass College of Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee College of Law. Justice Beasley is currently a student at Duke University School of Law completing an LLM in judicial studies. Justice Beasley and her husband, Curtis Owens, are the proud parents of twin sons, Thomas and Matthew, 17-year-old high school seniors. They are members of First Baptist Church of Raleigh, where Justice Beasley serves on the Board of Trustees.

College of Nursing

Lauren Akins

Lauren Akins is a 2012 graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

During her undergraduate studies, she was involved in Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, The Walk at Sevier Heights Baptist Church and Crossroads at Fellowship Church, and UT intramurals.

Following graduation, Akins became involved with 147 Million Orphans, a Christian organization that provides food, water, medicine, and shelter for vulnerable children and their communities. The organization was founded in 2009 to provide the critical needs of children affected by the orphan crisis and living in poverty. Akins has traveled to Haiti, Kenya, and Uganda, and is committed to helping children around the world lead better lives. 147 Million Orphans has since transformed into Love One International where they are continuing and refocusing their efforts in Uganda. Through her work abroad, Akins and her husband met and adopted their daughter, Willa Gray, from Uganda last year.

Akins currently serves on the board of directors for Love One International and remains involved with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by serving on the Young Alumni Council. She is also in the process of starting her own nonprofit organization to widen the scope of her charitable efforts.

Akins lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Thomas Rhett, and their two children, Willa Gray, age two, and Ada James, nine months.

The Graduate School

Vincent PriceVincent Price is receiving his PhD in teacher education with a focus on the teaching of black literature, having already received an MS in teacher education from UT. He comes to us from the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned his BA in English, with a minor in French. He is looking forward to taking what he has learned here at Rocky Top to high schools in Beaumont, Texas.

He knew early on that he was going to go to graduate school but took time after receiving his undergraduate degree to teach at the high-school level in his hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi. During the four-and-a-half years he spent teaching in grades 9–12, he strove to bring black literature into the classroom whenever possible. This passion for increasing the amount of black literature taught in schools has clearly been a major theme throughout his master’s and PhD research programs.

While in his graduate program at UT, Price published a paper in the journal Changing English, titled “Flipping the Coin: Towards a Double-Faced Approach to Teaching Black Literature in Secondary English Classrooms.” He has also presented at events such as the New Directions in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Conference and at the Literacy Research Association’s 66th annual conference as part of the Critical Race Theory Study Group. He served as the public relations officer for the Multicultural Graduate Student Organization from 2014 to 2016 and remains an active member.

By his own admission, Price enjoys expanding his comfort zone. He earned first place in the 2017 3MT competition at UT and went on to receive the People’s Choice Award at the regional competition. He began taking ballroom dance classes during his master’s program and has expanded his repertoire during his PhD program, learning tango, salsa, bachata, and tap dancing. Adding Spanish, piano, and skating to his list of new endeavors, Price finds many ways to balance his work with a discovery of what else life has to challenge him.

College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Jeffrey BiskupDr. Jeffrey Biskup, assistant professor of small animal surgery with Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University, is a former faculty member at UTCVM.


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