Thornton tells grads to 'enjoy the journey'

May 19, 2013
Contact: Karen Eldridge, Director of Communications
865.981.8207; karen.eldridge@maryvillecollege.edu

Enjoy the journey but be sure to savor the views while climbing life’s mountains.

That was the message John Thornton passed along to members of Maryville College’s Class of 2013 during Commencement exercises this evening. Thornton, a Maryville native who is founder and CEO of Thunder Enterprises, said it was advice he had been given years ago from a successful business leader but failed to follow.

Thornton told the commencement crowd that after founding and guiding American Rug Craftsmen to a multimillion-dollar company, friend and Chattanooga businessman Joe Decosimo sent him a note, congratulating him on his success but reminding him to stop and enjoy “these moments.”

“I saved Joe’s note, but I really did not fully appreciate at the time what he meant,” Thornton said. “It was not until I was much older and had time to reflect – to look back on my own journey – that I understood the message.

“I was so focused on being at the top of the mountain that I didn’t stop to savor some of the most incredible views of my life during the journey,” he continued. “… So much of your happiness and growth and so many of the very best memories occur while you are climbing the mountain. When you are climbing the mountain to success – and I wish all of you much success – stop long enough to enjoy the views.”

Thornton, who served on the College’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 1999, also received the College’s honorary doctor of law during the ceremony.

He shared more advice from others in his address titled “Lloyd’s Lessons & Pat’s Principles.”

Remembering his late father, Lloyd Thornton, John Thornton told graduates to be appreciative.

“Dad was a perfect Southern gentleman, and he never missed the opportunity to say ‘Thank you,’” the speaker said. “Those two very simple words are two of the most powerful in the English language – no one ever tires of hearing them.

“Might I suggest that you take time to first thank your parents and all of the faculty, administrators and coaches who cared enough to teach you and challenge you and may have seen more in you than you saw in yourself.”

Passing along Pat Summitt’s advice to “control what you can control,” Thornton explained why having a positive attitude, working hard, treating others as you would like to be treated and taking care of your body are vitally important.

And from his own experiences, Thornton encouraged students to set high goals, work with passion and not be afraid of making mistakes or facing adversity.

He told the crowd that after founding American Rug Craftsmen in 1984 with one tufting machine, yarn and one machine operator, he built his company with the help of young Maryville College graduates recommended to him by men’s basketball coach Randy Lambert ’76, who is also a personal friend.

“This [success at American Rug Craftsmen] could not have been achieved without the energy, intensity and spirit of the graduates hired from Maryville College,” he told members of the Class of 2013. “You are from the same educational culture – many of you have lived in the same dorms and been taught by the same great caring professors.”

Employees recognized

During commencement exercises, recognition was also given to faculty and staff members for outstanding service during the 2012-2013 academic year.

Dr. Scott Brunger, professor of economics, was recognized for his retirement and election to the status of “professor emeritus” at the College.

Dr. Barbara Wells, vice president and dean of the College, cited the professor’s contributions to further international study, travel and relations at the College.

“Dr. Brunger has a generous spirit and a gift for hospitality,” she said. “He has served as an informal mentor to dozens of international students and has been a friend to many international scholars and other guests to our campus.”

The Outstanding Teacher Award, the recipient of which is nominated by juniors and seniors at the College, went to Dr. Karen Beale, associate professor of psychology. In presenting the award, Wells described Beale, previously a runner-up for the award, as a teacher who cares passionately about her field of study and her students.

“Students reached for superlatives in describing her: One said: ‘She is perfect. She is passionate about her work and about sharing with her students how to make our lives better.’ Another said: ‘She is like the superwoman of teachers. She knows her stuff, she is organized and flexible, and more importantly - she cares!’”

Dr. Drew Crain, professor of biology, was recognized as the runner-up for the award. A 15-year member of the faculty, he was praised for developing in his students a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world.

“His courses provide meaningful experiences in nature that might include visiting Cades Cove, walking in the College Woods, or planting fruit trees in the orchard,” Wells read.

Receiving the Nancy B. Hunter Outstanding Staff Award was Laura Caldwell, senior admissions processor and budget manager. The Rev. Dr. Anne McKee, campus minister, was named winner of the Martha Hess Outstanding Administrator Award. Assistant Director of Financial Aid Barbara Cloud Hutchison ’71, was presented the Sharon A. Murphy Crane Distinguished Service Award.

Charge to the Class of 2013

In his charge to the Class of 2013, Maryville College President Dr. William T. “Tom” Bogart told the graduates to depart from the College with more than a diploma.

“Leave here transformed by your experience and dedicated to following and demonstrating the will of God through your thoughts and actions,” he said. “As you continue in your journey, please remember that you always have a home here where Chilhowee’s lofty mountains pierce the Southern blue. Come back and share with us your successes and struggles, as you have done during your time here. Be the inspiration for the next person the way that others have inspired you. Say ‘thank you’ to those who have helped you during your time here, and let us thank you for how you have helped us.

“The Lord bless you and keep you as you continue your journey,” the president said as he concluded his remarks to the new graduates.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is 1,168.