JOHNSON CITY - A 1993 graduate of Northeast State Technical Community College said 2007 graduates can go far with their associate degrees.
However, he also said that plain old common sense also is required for career success.
"You do what you want to do. You can be what you want to be," said Allen Hurley, who founded and operates the nation's largest factory-authorized cellular phone repair business - with an associate's degree from Northeast State.
The business, Touchstone Wireless, employs more than 500 in Bristol, Tenn., and nearly 1,400 total in four U.S. locations and Puerto Rico.
Hurley was the commencement speaker at the ceremony for a record 841 Northeast graduates.
The ceremony was held at East Tennessee State University's Memorial Center.
Students received 401 associate of science degrees, eight associate of arts, 329 associate of applied science, 91 technical certificates and 12 academic certificates. A total of 90 students graduated cum laude, 51 magna cum laude, and 60 summa cum laude.
Hurley went to work after graduation with Centel Cellular, now owned by Alltel, as an installer.
He said no matter what your first job, you must strive to be the best at what you do and what co-workers do, avoid being cocky and help others to gain their respect and help.
"What you do the next three to five years will impact where you are 10 years down the road," Hurley said, adding that money must be balanced with a home and family life. He also said to be prepared to seek help from God multiple times.
"You're going to make a bunch of mistakes. I make them every day," said Hurley, who at 37 speaks directly with people like the president of Alltel, Motorola and other top officials in the phone industry.
He recalled early on in the company's growth offering a four-year college graduate with a 4.0 grade point average $40,000 - more than he made at the time - to manage a retail operation.. The man turned him down, saying he was worth at least $100,000 even though he had never managed others or a large amount of money.
Six weeks later, Hurley and his wife ran across the man working as a bus boy.
"He said, ‘My dad told me to get a job or he was kicking me out,'" Hurley said. The man eventually received a job starting at $40,000 and learned a lesson, Hurley said.
He said big interview mistakes many potential employees make is not dressing appropriately and poor personal appearance.
"If they represent themselves that way, how are they going to represent our company?" Hurley said.
Recently at the company's Pennsylvania operations, Hurley said he personally nixed any chance of an applicant for a $75,000-a-year job because of his cell phone ringing during an interview with a human resources manager.
"It rings. He answers it," Hurley said.
The installer's position that jump-started Hurley's career was supposed to require a four-year electronic engineering degree, but he convinced Centel to give him a job as an installer with only his associate's degree in electronic engineering.
In 1998, he started Image 1 Wireless repairing phones out of a neighbor's garage, then merged with Eastern Wireless to form Touchstone in September 2005.
Hurley received the schools' 2006 Outstanding Alumni Award and is a member of the President's Trust. "Allen is one of the outstanding entrepreneurs in our region," Northeast State President Bill Locke said.