Ford executive urges graduates to be resilient

Resilience is one of the most important traits for success in life. This was the message to University of Tennessee at Martin graduates from Ford Motor Co. executive Liliana Ramirez during spring commencement exercises Saturday, May 6, in the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. Ramirez, the company’s global director for workforce development, delivered her message to 591 graduates from the university’s five colleges during two commencement ceremonies.

Graduates represented 65 Tennessee counties, 28 other states and the District of Columbia, and five countries outside the U.S. The 10 a.m. ceremony included undergraduate and graduate-degree candidates from the colleges of agriculture and applied sciences, and business and global affairs. The 2 p.m. ceremony also included both undergraduate and graduate-degree candidates and featured graduates from the colleges of education, health and behavioral sciences, engineering and natural sciences, and humanities and fine arts.

Ramirez joined Ford in 1993 and has direct responsibility to prepare the manufacturing workforce required for West Tennessee’s BlueOval City and BlueOval SK Battery parks. The $5.6 billion investment will create 6,000 jobs in various occupations to build Ford’s electric trucks with operations expected to begin in 2025. For the Ford executive, resilience has been a key to both life and professional success.

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, to pick yourself up after a setback, and to keep going even when the going gets tough,” she told the 10 a.m. audience. “It’s the ability to persevere through difficult times, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to stay focused on your goals, no matter what obstacles you may face.

“But here’s the thing about resilience – it’s not just about getting back up when you fall down. It’s about falling forward. It’s about learning from your mistakes and using them as a steppingstone to future success.”        

Ramirez described resilience as a skill that must be developed over time, and she offered three keys to developing resilience.

“First and foremost, you need to believe in yourself, and you need to be your own advocate,” she said. “Have confidence in your abilities. Be kind to yourself, be willing to take risks and try new things, even if you don’t know how they’re going to turn out.

“Be flexible and willing to adjust when things don’t go as planned, because you never know when new opportunities will present themselves.”

The second key to developing resilience is persistence and the willingness to work hard to achieve goals. “Many new college graduates are worried about escalating rapidly, concerned with titles and getting ahead,” Ramirez said. “While a title is one measure of success, I assure you that it is more important to recognize that at any level, you can make an impact. … Stay focused and persistent in working toward your goal.”

Keeping a positive attitude was her final key to developing resilience.

“If you can stay optimistic, even in the face of adversity, and focus on the opportunities that lie ahead rather than dwelling on the setbacks of the past, you will find much more satisfaction in your life.

“I will tell you that happiness is truly a choice. I implore you to choose it.”

Dr. Philip Acree Cavalier, UT Martin interim chancellor, presided over the two ceremonies and conferred degrees. He also made several recognitions, including nine ROTC cadets during the 10 a.m. ceremony who were commissioned Friday as second lieutenants and received their degrees Saturday. Dr. Bernard Savarese, acting vice president for academic affairs, research and student success, represented the UT System and brought greetings and congratulations to the graduates.

“Our very best work is done through others,” Savarese told the audience. “Continue to seek out opportunities that allow you to engage, support and lift up others as you advance in all you do.”

Dawson Gremmels, Student Government Association president from Huntingdon advised graduates to step back from the semester’s hectic pace and “take this moment in.” He added, “Your degree is your way of saying that you were able to make it to this point and are ready for the next steps of life.”

Dr. Danny Donaldson, Martin optometrist and 1999 graduate, closed with congratulations from the UT Martin Alumni Council. He asked that graduates advocate for the university, stay connected, and get involved as an active alum. “Please come back and visit the campus as often as you can,” he said. “If asked to serve on a board, please consider it. I’m glad that I did.”

The Paul and Martha Meek Award, the only award announced during commencement, was presented during the 2 p.m. ceremony to Tia Moore, of Collierville, and Gracie Barber, of Kansas City, Missouri. The award is given to one or more graduating seniors who demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities while at the university.

Both ceremonies will be archived on YouTube at for later viewing. 


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