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The 2016 Alumni Board Awards winners, standing with Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, are (l-r) Linda Starnes, Sharon Price John, Shannon Driver, Joel Seligstein, Jerry Summers, Larry Carroll, Janice McKinley, Chris Kirkland (son of Bob Kirkland), Edwin McDougle, Denning Rodriguez, Nannette Baker, Jim Murphy, Mintha Roach, Ashley Kerns, Ben Weprin, Mitch Patel, and Alumni Board President Clay Jones.

More than 350 UT alumni, spouses, families, and special guests convened at the Knoxville Convention Center last week for the Alumni Board Awards Dinner.

Seventeen remarkable Volunteers from a broad spectrum of professions were recognized for their achievements and contributions to UT, the nation, and the world.

Those receiving the top honor, the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards, were:

  • Sharon Price John, CEO and president of Build-a-Bear Workshop.

“I am thankful beyond words to come back and accept this award,” she said. “Thirty years ago I graduated from UT, and in many stops along the way I have been asked why I never lost my accent. It’s because I haven’t tried. I’m pure Tennessee and proud of it. UT gave me the values of hard work and perseverance, and it gave me the skill set to achieve my dreams. I will forever be grateful.”

  • Jerry Summers, founding and supervising member of Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers in Chattanooga.

“I would like to thank UT and particularly the College of Law. I have practiced law for fifty years and I have succeeded because, starting at UT, people cared enough about me to help me be successful. I humbly and respectfully thank UT for this honor and recognition.”

  • Robert Kirkland, the late founder and owner of Kirkland’s stores.

Kirkland̍s son, Chris Kirkland, accepted the award for his father, saying, “Dad loved business, and he also was a strong advocate for liberal arts. His love of learning had its genesis here at UT, and his success was a tribute to UT.”

Clay Jones, president of the Alumni Board of Directors, served as master of ceremonies, and Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek provided an update about campus. The evening culminated with the UT Singers performing the “Alma Mater” andRocky Top.”

Find out more about the Distinguished Alumnus winners and others at:

Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna

Alumni Professional Achievement

Alumni Service 

Alumni Promise

2016 Alumni Awards Dinner Program


Brooks Clark (865-974-5471,