Cumberland University


Cumberland University holds 175th commencement


Cumberland University’s 175th commencement ceremony took place Saturday on Memorial Lawn with approximately 496 graduates earning diplomas, which was the largest class in the University’s history. An estimated 4,500 guests were in attendance for the one hour and 45-minute ceremony where a little rain and a little sunshine made an appearance. The ceremony was condensed because of the threat of rain, although it did not dampen the spirits of the graduates and their families. This year the honor of Macebearer was given to Rick and Sally Heydel, son and daughter-in-law of longtime CU trustee Bill Heydel, who passed away in 2016 and June Heydel, who passed away in 2015.


Deron Henry, a 1996 graduate of Cumberland University and student pastor of the First Family First Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn., gave the invocation. Paul C. Stumb, president of Cumberland University; Robert McDonald, chairman of the board of trust; Natalie Inman, faculty senate chair; and Nytrellis Ross, president of the Student Government Association all spoke words of gratitude and encouragement to the graduates. Ross recounted memorable moments of the last four years they have spent together.

A University proclamation was read in honor of Chairman McDonald, who has served two terms. McDonald and his wife, Susan, were surprised with the announcement of an endowed scholarship established in their names by the CU board of trust. The Robert K. and Susan L. McDonald Endowed Scholarship will be awarded annually.

Other awards and recognitions given out at commencement:  

The President’s Award was given to David Gregory, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, History Honors Society and Pi Gamma Mu, the Social Science Honor Society.  This year he received the History Associate of Wilson County Award as well as the Raymond Cleveland Award in Social Science. 

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award was given to Nytrellis Ross, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting and management. Ross has served in the Student Government Association for three years, and this year as President. He is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta - Freshman Honor Society and Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. As a member of the Cumberland University football team, Ross was a three-time Mid-South Conference Scholar-Athlete (2014, 2015, and 2016) and two-time Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete (2015, 2016). 

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Community Award was given to Gary and Tammye Whitaker. Their civic and charitable causes have boosted the Lebanon community and inspired others. Gary received his degree from The Graduate School of Banking at LSU. He serves as executive vice president of Wilson Bank and Trust, where he has worked at the bank since 1996. Tammye received a bachelor’s degree in science from Belmont College and a master’s degree in education from MTSU. She worked in the Office of Student Affairs at Belmont University for 22 years serving as the assistant dean of students prior to retirement. Gary and Tammye are involved at College Hills Church of Christ, serve on the board of Sherry’s Run, and are graduates of Leadership Wilson. Gary is currently a member of the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary; in the past he has served on various boards including the Chamber of Commerce, Adult Education, and the Southeastern School of Consumer Credit. Tammye has led various support groups for the Wilson County community and worked with the school system to provide information to students with disabilities on how to successfully transition from high school to college.

The President’s Award for Teaching Excellence was given to Mary Lewis Haley, a Cumberland alumna and accounting and economics professor for more than 30 years. Her bachelor’s degree is from the University of Tennessee, and her master’s as well as doctoral degree are from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a Certified Public Accountant in the area of taxation, a Certified Management Accountant and she is Certified in Financial Management. She holds memberships in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants (TSCPA), the Tennessee Society of Accounting Educators (TSAE), the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), and the Association of Government Accountants (AGA). Dr. Haley has held leadership positions in the TSCPA. Currently, she is serving on the Accounting Education and Career Awareness Committee of the TSCPA.

The Distinguished Alumni Award was given to Jonathan G. Franklin, a 1989 graduate of Cumberland University. This award is the highest honor bestowed by the Cumberland University Alumni Association and salutes the achievements of outstanding alumni whose personal lives, professional achievements and community service exemplify the objectives of the University. During his time at CU, Franklin was an outstanding baseball player and was inducted into the Cumberland Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. He is the owner and operator of Franklin Family Eye Care in Mount Juliet.

The Rising Phoenix Award was given to Justin B. Bradford, a 2008 alumnus.This award recognizes alumni 35 years of age or younger who display outstanding leadership qualities and have exceptional achievement early in their careers and in public service and volunteer activities. He is the digital media manager and producer with the Nashville Symphony as well as host of Penalty Box Radio on ESPN 102.5 The Game. He is also the author of Nashville Predators: The Making of Smashville.

The Award of Excellence in Humanities, Education, and the Arts was presented to Thomas William “Toby” Compton, Jr., a 2011 Master of Science in Public Service Management graduate. After an impressive career in politics and state and local government, he is currently the president and CEO of the Greater Tennessee Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. 

The Award for Excellence in Nursing and Health Professions was presented to Jennifer Weatherspoon Quigley, a 2008 graduate. She currently works as a nurse practitioner with Healthy Kids LLC in Shelbyville. She was recognized as a Frist Global Health Leader in 2015.

The Award for Excellence in Science, Technology, and Business was presented to John C. Pope, a 1996 graduate. A prominent local banker and past president of the CU Alumni Association board of directors, Pope is currently vice president of Southern Bank of Tennessee.

Cumberland University has one of the longest, richest histories of any higher education institution in the state. Founded in 1842, the University flourishes today with exceptional faculty and fully-accredited academic programs steeped in the liberal arts, including three distinct schools: the Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions; the School of Humanities, Education, and the Arts; and the Labry School of Science, Technology, and Business. With a student body approaching 2,000, 25 percent of whom live on campus, our unique residential living and learning experience allows students to find their sense of belonging. Athletics also are a strength of Cumberland University, as its teams in 20 sports regularly compete for conference and national championships. Its world-renowned baseball team has claimed the NAIA national championship title three times since 2004. At Cumberland University you can Learn What’s Possible!