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Holly Chamberlin has navigated personal angst on her road to graduation, but this week the 26-year-old’s perseverance pays off: she is graduating with a master’s degree in special education from UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.

“I was formally diagnosed in eighth grade with ADD,” she said. “I would bounce off the wall.”

Yet it was her own learning issues stemming from her attention deficit disorder that led her down this path.

“I didn’t do very well in school because I didn’t apply myself until I got to college and learned how to cope with my diagnosis,” said Chamberlin. “But I did fall in love with helping classmates with disabilities in high school.”

More than 4,000 students, including 3,038 undergraduates, 805 graduate students, 96 in law, and 82 in veterinary medicine, will participate in UT commencement ceremonies this week. For full details concerning security, parking, ceremonies, and speakers, see the Spring Commencement 2017 website.

Chamberlin grew up in Knoxville, graduated from Bearden High School in 2009, and spent two years at Pellissippi State Community College.

She transferred to UT, but just before she was set to begin classes her eldest sister passed away unexpectedly.

“Losing my sister was tough,” Chamberlin said, “but I knew she’d want me to keep going.”

Chamberlin graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in special education. She knew she wanted to earn her master’s degree but didn’t feel the need to rush things.

“I moved to Prague and became certified to teach English as a second language,” said Chamberlin. “I stayed there a year and then sold everything. I backpacked across Europe for five months, moved to Australia for three months, and then went to Southeast Asia for one month.”

The experience was just what she needed.

“When you travel abroad you learn more about the world and the way it works more than any textbook can offer,” she said.

Chamberlin moved back to Knoxville in 2016 to begin her graduate studies.

Now that she’s done, Chamberlin hopes to land a teaching job in Knoxville, Nashville, or somewhere overseas.

“The two things I love most are teaching and traveling,” she said. “Being able to combine those is the best.”

Chamberlin still manages her symptoms, but has learned how to get through life and school with ADD. She writes everything down and describes herself as super organized.

“I never realized my potential until I came to UT,” she said. “I never thought I would have come this far.”


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,