On This Day: Dolly Parton Delivers Commencement Address, Receives Honorary Doctorate in 2009

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Dolly Parton may be working 9-to-5 but she also had time for her education as well. At least, an honorary one by any case. The country music legend earned an honorary doctrine on this day in 2009. The Queen of Nashville even delivered a commencement address for the occasion.

Dolly Parton and Tennessee are an iconic duo. After all, that’s where she’s done most of her best work and even built a theme park. So, it makes sense that the University of Tennessee would honor one of its biggest names. Parton garnered only the second ever honorary doctrine in the university’s history.

“Do not confuse dreams with wishes,” she said during the commencement address. “There is a difference. Dreams are where you visualize yourself being successful at what’s important to you to accomplish. Dreams build convictions because you work hard to pay the price to make sure that they come true. Wishes are hoping good things will happen to you, but there’s no fire in your gut that causes you to put everything forth to overcome all the obstacles.

Dolly Parton on Her One-of-a-Kind Career

Outside of music, one of Dolly Parton’s biggest accomplishments at the time was establishing the Dollywood Foundation. The organization promotes education and literacy among young children and offers scholarship for college bound students.

“In the end, what we came up with was pretty simple, straightforward and a wish for all kids: We wanted them to dream more, learn more, care more, and be more,” Parton explained. “Now, when I was thinking about what I should say to you today, those four simple things just kept coming back to me.”

Like anyone would, Parton also took the moment to reflect back on her own career. The musician quite literally started from nothing and became one of the biggest names in country music. With Porter Wagoner, she became a star. But her own brightness soon eclipsed his own.

“We were one of the most popular duets ever in country music, but I wanted to try new things,” Parton said of their partnership.”I wanted to write more songs, different music, and sing and try different things. Porter didn’t want that — and neither did a whole lot of the so-called conventional wisdom. I knew that even if I fell flat on my face, at least that I would know that I tried, and that I would learn something from all that.”

The most important takeaway? Parton urged for people to dream more often.

“So you have to dream more,” Parton added, “and never, ever, ever blame somebody else if it doesn’t happen.”