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Isaac Ward loves his small town and a good story. Combining the two, he’s found success as an entrepreneur and a student filmmaker.

Ward, of LaFollette, graduates from UT on Friday with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and electronic media.

The university will award 1,170 undergraduate degrees, 654 graduate degrees, six law degrees, and three veterinary medicine degrees during this week’s commencement ceremonies. Graduate hooding will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 14, and undergraduate commencement will take place at 9 a.m. on Friday, December 15. Both events will be held in Thompson-Boling Arena. ROTC cadets also will be commissioned during the undergraduate ceremony.

Ward transferred to Rocky Top from East Tennessee State University. For about two years, he’s operated his own videography company that focuses on telling the stories of the people, places, and events around Campbell County.

Ward knew from an early age that he wanted to find a way to express his creativity.

“I love telling people’s stories,” he said. “When I am behind a lens, I can truly show people what I see and be proud of the work I create.”

Although he started out studying accounting at ETSU, Ward switched to journalism because of his passion for storytelling. Wanting to be closer to home, he transferred to Lincoln Memorial University for a semester before deciding that UT would be a better fit.

After returning to Campbell County, Ward launched his photography and videography company to gain experience and help pay the bills.

“It was election season, and I thought I’d go around to see if people wanted me to make campaign videos for them for Facebook,” he said.

He got several takers and made some good contacts.

With confidence gained from that experience, Ward starting knocking on doors to see if any Campbell County businesses would hire him to make commercials.

“I was turned down at least 45 times,” he said.

When he made his pitch to David Reynolds, president of the 100-year-old People’s Bank of the South in LaFollette, Ward expected his 46th rejection.

But Reynolds was impressed with Ward’s initiative and suggested a project.

“I told him, ‘There’s not anybody who wants to see a commercial about a bank. What they want to see is football,’” Reynolds said.

He offered to have the bank sponsor Ward in making game and behind-the-scenes videos of the Campbell County football team to be posted online. The team was on a record-breaking winning streak, and community members were excited about the season.

Before long, the Campbell County Cougar videos were garnering 8,000 to 10,000 views on Facebook; one reached 30,000 views.

At the end of each season, the bank pays Ward to make a season highlights video that’s presented to each team member.

“Isaac has really done a fine job,” Reynolds said. “He’s a good kid and has always been a worker.”

JEM professor Nick Geidner, who teaches video journalism and runs Land Grant Films, is Ward’s close mentor.

Ward was one of four UT students who had their documentaries about Vietnam veterans chosen to air on PBS this past fall. His film, Life After War, featured the stories of two Tennessee veterans—one from Powell and one from LaFollette.

This fall Ward also won a national college media award for Never Giving Up, a short documentary he made for Geidner’s class about double-amputee Jason Koger.

Ward makes the 140-minute roundtrip commute between his family’s home in LaFollette and Knoxville several times a week for classes. The traveling, his coursework, and his videography business leave him with little down time.

But Ward remembers Geidner’s journalism advice: “You will not get better unless you go out and do it.”

Ward likens his rigorous schedule to an athlete practicing for the big game.

“College isn’t something you want to learn a bad life lesson from,” he said. “You’ve got to take it seriously. You don’t go to practice to goof off. You come to get better.”

Ward will apply to start graduate school in the fall of 2018.

“This spring I look to stay rooted in my business and reach out to more businesses. I’m currently working on a Discover Campbell County campaign,” he said. ”I’m on a path of creating a larger body of work for future jobs and hopefully to be a professor at some point.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)