Exactly 800 Pellissippi State Community College students will graduate this spring, but there will be one poignantly empty chair at the school’s Commencement ceremony Friday, May 3, at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The empty chair will be left for the late Barry King, a longtime Pellissippi State student who likely would have finished his associate degree and graduated this semester. Barry, who had brittle diabetes and kidney disease, passed away in January 2018 after being hospitalized for flu. He only lacked three classes to earn his Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Technology with a concentration in Programming, but he would have had to take those three classes consecutively.
Barry’s father, Associate Professor Donn King, will address Pellissippi State graduates with “Lessons from a Not-So-Empty Chair.” Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and commencement begins at 7 p.m.
“Barry was a student at Pellissippi State for 12 years; he was determined to get that degree, and he kept at it,” said King, who has taught communication at Pellissippi State for 28 years. “It took him so long because he would get part way through a semester, wind up in the hospital for a couple of weeks, get too far behind to catch up and withdraw for the semester to try again later.”
While Barry’s long-sought degree will be awarded posthumously at commencement, King stressed he will focus his address not on his son, but on the lessons he learned from Barry – lessons that Pellissippi State students may realize they also have learned along the way.
“I want to recognize our graduates’ own strength and what it took for them to get to this spot and what it will take moving forward,” King said. “Graduation is not the end of their education. Like a graduated cylinder they may have used in their science classes, ‘graduated’ means ‘marked.’ Graduation marks a major transition and achievement in these students’ ongoing journey.”