As we head into graduation and the end of another academic term, I look back in awe of our accomplishments and forward with anticipation of what’s next.
The moments I’ve enjoyed the most, the ones that energize me and remind me why we do this work, are those I have spent with all of you. My first full semester here began with the once-in-a-lifetime viewing of a solar eclipse from the lawn of Ayres Hall. I watched on move-in day when new students arrived with smiles on their faces and their parents left with tears in their eyes. I attended my first MicNite and, yes, my very first football game in Neyland Stadium. And just last weekend, I watched the undefeated Lady Vols beat second-ranked Texas and saw Coach Barnes lead the men’s basketball team to a passionate win that put them into the top 20.
I have been all over this campus since August visiting new laboratories, learning environments, and living facilities. I’ve toured the Fab Lab and the Health Innovation Technology and Simulation Laboratory. I enjoyed lunch at the Anderson Center Business Accelerator, spoke at the UT Medical Center at a pinning ceremony for students graduating from our Medical Laboratory Sciences program, celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Strong Hall, and directed (sort of) the Pride of the Southland Band in their final practice of the year.
We welcomed UT’s largest and best-prepared freshman class in at least three decades. Our students have found their classrooms all over the world—including two students who were named Schwarzman Scholars, three who were recently honored by the “junior Nobel Prize” awards, and 10 who have received Fulbright awards.
We have announced the offices of a new high-tech medical device company at the Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus and opened a new Veterans Resource Center that will serve our students who have served this country in uniform.
We launched a $1.1 billion fundraising campaign that will help us continue to push the boundaries of learning, discovery, and innovation. We are preparing to hire a new vice chancellor for research, celebrating a new football coach, and gearing up to recruit a new provost. This campus has indeed been busy!
These highs have not come without tough decisions in recent months, including my decisions to opt out of the state’s outsourcing plan and to change leadership in the athletics department. These decisions have not been easy, and at times they brought regrettable negative attention to this campus which detracted from the great work you all are doing. But these challenges have also shown me what a resilient place this is, and that strength and resilience are in no small part a demonstration of the love and loyalty to this place we call Rocky Top. Your commitment to this university is why we will continue to excel as a place of learning, of innovation, of inclusion, and of exploration.
You remind me every day why this is such a special place. We have engineering students and faculty who are taking mobile science labs to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to demonstrate 3D printing. Business school students, for seven years now, have hosted a 5K and community festival to benefit Samaritan Place. And other student leaders are participating in community action projects focused on the LGBTQ+ community, Smokey’s Pantry, and Ijams Nature Center.
Your compassion for others, your drive for excellence, and your commitment to doing great work on this campus and in this community are inspiring. You are all torchbearers, and you certainly shine a light on all my work.
So enjoy this break. Spend time with your families and your friends this holiday season. Take a moment to be grateful, to renew your commitment to others and to yourself, and to be mindful, hopeful, and kind. I hope you’ll return in the new year energized and ready to continue fulfilling the mission of this university.
Onward and upward!