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Graduation has been a long time coming—eight years, to be exact—for a UT doctoral graduate who will walk across the stage in just a few days.

Graduate hooding ceremonies will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, in Thompson-Boling Arena. Undergraduate commencement ceremonies begin at 9:00 a.m. Friday, December 11, also in Thompson-Boling Arena. More than 2,300 students will graduate this fall—1,795 undergraduates, 559 graduate students, and seven law students.

Eileen_GalangWhen Eileen Galang accepted a position to work as a graduate assistant and pursue her doctoral degree in English as a Second Language (ESL) at UT in the fall of 2007, she never imagined it would take her eight years to finish.

But she also never imagined the tragic events and hardships that would pose speed bumps on her journey.

Coming to Knoxville meant being separated from her husband, Kris, who stayed back in their hometown of Rome, Georgia, where he was a self-employed business owner. Kris drove to Knoxville each weekend so he and Galang could spend time together.

Although living apart from her husband, Galang was happy to be near her sister, Everly, and her niece and nephew who lived in Maryville.

In spring 2010, Galang’s sister was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age thirty-four. Galang put her education on hold to care for her sister. She worked as an itinerant ESL teacher for Knox County Schools to contribute to the couple’s household income.

Despite undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, Galang’s sister lost her battle with cancer at the age of thirty-six.

Prior to her sister’s passing, Galang promised to stay in the Knoxville area until her nephew graduated from high school in 2012—but that meant further postponing her education.

Once her nephew graduated, Galang returned to Georgia and was able to resume her UT studies remotely. For the past three years, she focused on completing her coursework while also working full time as an elementary ESL teacher for Rome City Schools.

“While the milestone of graduation represents a defining moment in my life, the journey to reach this moment has provided me with more than just book knowledge and a Ph.D.,” Galang said. “Rather, the journey has been an unforgettable learning experience that has taught me a lasting lesson—in order to overcome loss, we must seize opportunities that lead to healing, hope and ultimately happiness.”

Galang successfully defended her dissertation this summer. She dedicated it to her late sister.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,