Tennessee State University said farewell to its most recent leader on December 15. President Portia Holmes Shields, whose tenure at TSU ends December 31 after two years as interim president, reminded the graduates that with their accomplishments comes certain responsibilities. In a passionate, last commencement speech, the outgoing Shields told over 700 graduates to celebrate their accomplishments with a “victory dance.”
“As you graduate, you are fulfilling a dream that eludes so many,” Dr. Shields said. “When you get that degree in your hand, declare victory, do a victory dance and then take time to reflect on how the victory feels.”
She encouraged the newest TSU alumni to “Be role models in your communities and for your family members by helping every one of them achieve. Let them know that education creates opportunities, opens doors and offers greater protection for the family.”
For the long time educator, in many ways, Shields is also graduating. In apparent references to her own departure and “fond memories” of the institution, Dr. Shields said:
“We graduate together today my friends, and while we are leaving TSU, TSU will always be with us.”
Upon her arrival at TSU in 2011, she assumed leadership of a university facing some extraordinary challenges. She helped address the impending Southern Association of Colleges and School’s reaffirmation and a three-year flat enrollment. Under her guidance, the university achieved full and unconditional reaffirmation from SACS and an increase in enrollment, climbing to 9,165 students, the highest in the university’s 100-year history.
Notable physical footprints Dr. Shields leaves behind include the $8 million, 30,000 square-foot agriculture biotechnology research center under construction, the dedication of new 18,000 square foot greenhouses with teaching and research areas, 14 new ‘smart classrooms,’ the dedication of the areas’ first indoor practice facility, and the $1 million renovation to Hale Stadium that brought nearly 16,000 fans to ‘The Hole’ after a 14-year absence of football on campus. Under her watch extramural funding increased 6.6% to $48.3 million; alumni giving went up by 34%; and overall giving went up 63%. She became an active personal financial contributor to the University Foundation with more than $20,000 in contribution. She thanked the university family for their support and kindness.
“I could not have accomplished what I accomplished without you,” Shields said. “I ask you to give (incoming President) Dr. Glover your full support to keep Tennessee State University moving forward.”
In a special presentation, the Tennessee State University Foundation and the President’s Roundtable, a group of outstanding and influential alumni and friends of TSU, thanked Dr. Shields for an outstanding leadership. The two groups, represented by Foundation Chairman Melvin Malone, presented Dr. Shields with a $25,000 endowment check in her name for scholarships. With the $25,000 contribution, Dr. Shields reached her goal of raising $3 million in private financial donation to the university in her two years at TSU.