Students, family, and well-wishers filled the Pickel Field House on Saturday to celebrate Volunteer State Community College fall commencement. Austin Bonebrake of Portland was named Outstanding Fall Graduate at the ceremony. Faculty nominators cited his overcoming adversity with resilience. Bonebrake was in a sledding accident that broke his C-6 vertebrae and severely damaged his C-5 vertebrae. He came to Vol State quadriplegic, with some limited use of his hands.
“I don’t have much hand function,” he said. “So I do the work on my iPad. I have a PDF viewer app and I use my pinky to write. I takes a bit longer to do assignments. I knew that I liked being outdoors, so that’s why I chose environmental science. I like to problem solve and find solutions. I’ve enjoyed all of my environmental science classes. Assistant professor Erin Bloom has been my go-to person. She’s helped me keep my head up.”
Bonebrake plans to transfer to Western Kentucky University to attend in the spring semester. “When it (the accident) first happened it was difficult to cope with,” he said. “But as time goes on you get into your own groove. You just have to go for it.”
Dennis Powers, class of 1973, gave the Alumni Association welcome. He is the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Former Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Tennessee football punter, Craig Colquitt, was the commencement speaker. The two-time Super Bowl champion reminded the graduates: “The opportunities come from how you decide your own life.”
There are 847 prospective graduates this year. They represent 22 different countries of birth. Thirty-one of the prospective graduates are military veterans. There are 324 TN Promise students expecting to graduate this fall and 173 TN Reconnect adult students.
For more pictures from graduation visit www.facebook.com/volstate.
Austin Bonebrake was honored as Outstanding Fall Graduate. Shown here with his family, left to right: Thomas, Austin, and Patty Bonebrake.