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Convocation speaker’s message to students: ‘Be better citizens’

MTSU’s 15th University Convocation speaker made reference to the best-selling book he co-authored and was read by more than 3,000 new freshmen and transfer students this year.

But civility and respect were at the heart of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 20-minute message to his audience at Convocation, a special annual ceremony that welcomes new students into the MTSU learning community and immediately engages them in the learning process.

2016 University Convocation keynote speaker Rajiv Chandrasekaran, co-author of "For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice" addresses an attentive audience Aug. 21 in Murphy Center. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

2016 University Convocation keynote speaker Rajiv Chandrasekaran, co-author of “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice,” addresses an attentive audience Aug. 21 in Murphy Center as MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, center, and Dr. Rick Sluder, vice provost for student success, listen intently. (MTSU photos by Andy Heidt)

“You have read about honor and valor and about service and sacrifice,” said Chandrasekaran, who, along with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, wrote “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice.”

“How do we take those values and incorporate them into our lives?” he continued. “Some of you will participate in MTSU’s ROTC program and serve our nation as military officers upon graduation. Others of you may choose to enlist. You have my utmost respect.

“But all of you — all of us — can serve our nation. And it doesn’t require a uniform. It simply requires a willingness to espouse the values that have long made our nation great: civility, civic engagement, empathy and a willingness to work with others who hold different opinions in a polite and respectful way. It requires us to be good citizens.

“We all have this power within us. But many of us choose not to demonstrate it — at least not on a regular basis.”

A San Francisco native, Chandrasekaran became senior vice president for public affairs at Starbucks and executive producer of the company’s social impact media initiatives in 2015.

“For Love of Country” was MTSU’s 2016 Summer Reading Program selection. Incoming freshmen and transfer students are expected to read each book before classes start, and all University 1010 classes will discuss it this fall. Faculty campuswide also are incorporating the book into their fall lesson plans.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Freshman Melany Ortiz-Hernandez, 18, of Smyrna, Tennessee, said “every story (in the book) was so heartbreaking and brought tears to my eyes. The book gave me a whole new level of respect and opened my eyes to our fellow veterans.”

Accompanied by her parents, Ofelia Hernandez and Max Ortiz, and sisters Kimberly and Ashley Oritz-Hernandez, the textiles, merchandising and design major said Chandrasekaran’s talk “gave us another opportunity to soak in what the book taught us and offered a new perspective regarding valor, compassion and love for our fellow man.”

Dr. Deb Sells, vice president of student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services, welcomed the freshmen and new transfer students to MTSU’s learning community.

“It’s a transition of where you have been and where you are going. … Today, you become one of us.”

President Sidney A. McPhee explained how the new students will be beginning “many new, significant relationships that will change your life.” He praised “our outstanding faculty” as a major part of that opportunity.

Chandrasekaran is a former senior correspondent and associate editor with The Washington Post. In addition to covering Afghanistan for most of a decade, he also was the Post’s bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo and Southeast Asia.

Following Convocation, students, their families, faculty and administration attended the President’s Picnic at Floyd Stadium.

Convocation signals the start of the 2016-17 academic year at MTSU and is one of many Week of Welcome activities. For a full schedule, visit http://mtsu.edu/nsfp/welcome.php. Students begin classes Monday, Aug. 22.

— Randy Weiler (randy.weiler@mtsu.edu)

New MTSU students recite the True Blue Pledge during University Convocation Aug. 21 in Murphy Center. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

New MTSU students recite the True Blue Pledge during University Convocation Aug. 21 in Murphy Center.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, top, and first lady Elizabeth McPhee, left, visit with guests during the President's Picnic at Floyd Stadium following University Convocation Aug. 21. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, center, and first lady Elizabeth McPhee, left, visit with guests during the President’s Picnic at Floyd Stadium following University Convocation Aug. 21.