John Keny, of Lewisburg, Tennessee, earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 2014 and begins his third year in the JD-MBA program in August.
I have been able to work with Chancellor Cheek as both an undergraduate, as the chief of staff for Student Government Association, and graduate student, as the Graduate Student Senate president. I have truly enjoyed both of these experiences and will always be thankful for the opportunities to work closely with him.
When I first met Chancellor Cheek, I was a freshman in Student Alumni Associates working an event. He made it a point to come over and thank each student working the event and to acknowledge that each of us took the time from our schedule to help out. He was always appreciative for students’ contributions and made it a point to tell us so.
I interacted a lot more with the chancellor as a senior in my undergraduate program. I had a chance to see how much he really embraced student life and our UT traditions. I remember going to him with other students that fall with a last-minute ask to put shakers in the entire student student section at Neyland Stadium for the upcoming home game. We kind of surprised him in public with the request at a luncheon. He called us back only a couple hours after we asked to tell us that we could look forward to enjoying shakers in every seat for the next home game.
Later that year, I was part of a committee that was planning Aloha Oe, one of the oldest traditions at our university. Chancellor Cheek challenged us to make this event better than it had been the year before, as he really liked this university tradition and saw its potential to grow and involve more students.
The chancellor gave us the resources we needed to make it bigger and better. We even ended the event with fireworks, which I am not entirely sure he knew about before they went off from the rooftop of Ayres Hall. You can imagine how surprised (and maybe a little worried) he was to see fireworks taking over the sky above the most iconic academic building on campus.
More recently I have been able to see how much he cares about the graduate students at UT. We talked numerous times in my role as Graduate Student Senate president last year. He hosted luncheons with graduate students and gave us a chance to ask questions about issues that make a difference to us. He and members of his cabinet followed up on all of the issues we brought forward. Not only did they follow up, but they took the time to come to meetings to further discuss the issues we brought forward.
I want to finish with one last story that sums up his work with students. Every year, SGA takes a contingent of students to advocate for student issues at the General Assembly. Chancellor Cheek invited us to lunch after our trip to thank us for going to Nashville. He asked us about what we had learned on the trip and took time to share how he thought the experience would help us develop as students and also our professional careers.
That conversation marked more than five years of talking with him, and he was just as focused and as deliberate in acknowledging the time we’d invested and thanking us for our help.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you, Chancellor Cheek. I did not know what to expect when I got to Knoxville as an undergraduate, but I am extremely grateful to have been a student here while you led our campus.
I know that you are leaving the university in a much better place.