Gov. Bill Haslam’s appearance in Cleveland on Saturday appears to be such an example.
The former Knoxville businessman, who now holds Tennessee’s highest ranking elected position, is visiting Bradley County to deliver the keynote address at Lee University’s Winter Commencement. We don’t know the content of his message nor the chosen words of his speech, but to realize his presence is wrapped around education, and not elections, is certainly a breath of fresh air.
Obviously, the governor must hold to his political party’s mandate to show support for colleagues in their hometowns whether his affiliation is Republican, Democrat, boldly Independent, tea party or one of the many lesser known persuasions. Earlier this year he made such an appearance on behalf of state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, who represents the 24th Legislative District, and who recently was re-elected assistant majority leader in the state House of Representatives by the Republican Caucus.
An example of a Cleveland visit when Haslam came to observe, but not necessarily to stump for a partisan lean, was a tour of the new Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufacturing plant while it was still under construction. Such visits are always welcome and certainly appreciated — not just by our community but by any city across our great state whose leaders are proud of their hometown’s progress and their growing stature within the surrounding region.
Saturday’s appearance by the governor is one that is expected to showcase the value of education. In Cleveland, we have two excellent options for higher learning. One is Cleveland State Community College where thousands of students — some fresh out of high school, some who are adults seeking to redirect their lives — have started, or finished, their formal educations. Under the longtime stewardship of Dr. Carl Hite, CSCC always has served as a reliable bridge connecting the minds of academic explorers to the lands of employment opportunity.
For those preferring the four-year university route, our hometown is proud home to Lee University whose own 26-year president, Dr. Paul Conn, has meticulously molded the home of the Flames into national prominence at multiple levels. Indeed, he is — as he was recently described in a public Habitat for Humanity celebration — the “ignitor of the Lee Flame.”
Regardless of its specific content, the governor’s commencement address Saturday is an exciting time for those who believe in community, in education and the value placed on both by leaders of our respective municipal and county governments, our diverse industries and businesses, our people-serving nonprofits, our churches and all whose input has helped to shape who we are, what we have become and from where.
In keeping with this theme of education, it is appropriate — as announced Thursday by Lee University — that as part of the commencement ceremony, Haslam will be presented an honorary doctorate. As explained by the school’s president, the Doctor of Laws degree is the honorary degree most commonly given to recognize accomplishment in government. This will be the first time Lee has given such an honorarium to an elected official, and only the 13th honorary degree the school has awarded in the past 25 years.
Such presentations should be rare because an honorary doctorate is not a token gesture. It is a symbol of respect and highest honor, and a show of appreciation for commitment to a cause and personal conviction in achieving it.
We join Lee University in welcoming Gov. Haslam.
We wish him well in his visit and we hope he enjoys his brief stay.
We believe he’ll find “The City With Spirit” to be a town whose people have earned their nickname.
We urge the governor to return soon.