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KNOXVILLE — More than 100 University of Tennessee students heard some compelling reasons Wednesday to stay in Knoxville after graduating from college.

At a reception in the Ray Mears Room of UT’s Thompson Boling arena, UT administrators, alumni, local business leaders and other officials gave the pitch to encourage UT’s African American students who are graduating soon to remain in the Knoxville community.

“The university, the Knoxville area and the students can all greatly benefit when UT graduates from all fields of study and diverse cultural backgrounds stay in the area to pursue their professional careers,” UT Acting President Eli Fly said.

“This event is part of our commitment to students at UT to make sure that they will get the opportunity to meet business leaders and explore employment opportunities throughout the Greater Knoxville region.”

Theotis Robinson Jr., UT vice president for Equity and Diversity, said Knoxville is an “undervalued asset” that holds tremendous untapped potential for growth and jobs for students who stay here after graduating.

“Some fields of economic growth and employment already may have reached full potential or grown exceedingly competitive in cities like Atlanta,” Robinson said, “but they still have much room for growth in Knoxville.”

Raja Jubran, who chairs the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, also touted Knoxville’s future growth.

“There are many opportunities for these graduates to get in on the ground floor of future growth in Knoxville,” Jubran said.

Robinson cited local business leader Jim Haslam, who came from Florida to attend UT and is now a UT trustee and chairs Pilot Corp., as an example of a UT grad who stayed here to contribute to the city’s growth.

“Would Knoxville have been better off if Haslam had left this community after his years at UT, never to put down roots and to achieve his business success here?

“Will Knoxville be better off with the loss of its black college graduates? The answer to both questions is no.”

Bridget Bailey, partner with Knoxville’s Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop law firm, moved here from Chicago and decided to stay after graduating from UT College of Law in 1994.

“The value of a college or university to any city is its ability to attract a broad spectrum of students, have them earn their degrees, and then stay in the area and contribute to local economic and social growth,” Bailey said.

“Events such as this reception are needed to help inform African American graduates of the opportunities available at UT and in the Knoxville area.”

Leadership Knoxville Chairman Sam Furrow said the city must work hard to find new, creative ways to attract diverse groups of graduates to stay in the Knoxville area.

“If our city and region are to reach their full potential, we must make every effort to encourage our best and brightest college graduates — from all fields of study, from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and with their variety of talents — to stay and make home here and contribute to the future of the community,” Leadership Knoxville Chairman Sam Furrow said.

(L to R) Sam Furrow, Bridget Bailey, Raja Jubran, Theotis Robinson