After six months of planning and secrecy, Veterans Resource Center graduate assistant Linda Hinkle was able to surprise 15 of her fellow graduating female veterans with Quilts of Valor on Tuesday.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation has more than 8,000 volunteers across the country who handcraft quilts to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing.” To date, more than 186,000 quilts have been presented.
Following the opening of VRC in the fall of 2017, when four quilts were presented to UT students and employees, Hinkle got in contact with the East Tennessee Quilts of Valor chapter operators, Dennis and Doyleen Taylor, to inquire if quilts could be made for each woman veteran graduating this spring.
“I expected them to say, ‘You’re so sweet, but no,’” said Hinkle, who was awarded a Quilt of Valor earlier this spring, following a nomination by her husband, who is also a veteran. “But instead they’d said, ‘Absolutely! It’s an awesome idea and we’ll do it.’”
Dennis Taylor enlisted the help of Andrew Lee, John Lewis, Chuck Calhoun, and Rick Finchum—known within the organization as “the Guy Quilters”—and the men took on the job of making quilts to surprise each of the graduating women veterans.
During the ceremony, the women were presented with graduation regalia by Troy Lane, associate vice chancellor for public safety and chief of the UT Police Department, who is an Army veteran.
Taylor instructed the women not to display their quilts but rather to use them, enjoy them, and consider every stitch a thank you for their service.
“We probably award about 1 percent of the quilts we make to female veterans,” said Taylor. “Guess what? That number is changing today. And we are so excited.”
Veterans receiving quilts on Tuesday were:
- Jessica Gadd, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public administration. Gadd served almost seven years in the US Navy.
- Tiffany Gordon, who will graduate with a master’s degree in social work. Gordon served in the US Army as a paralegal. She was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- Samilynn Jordan, who graduated in December 2017 with a master’s degree in agriculture leadership, education, and communication.
- Yuki Minami, of Baltimore, Maryland, who is graduating with a degree in modern foreign languages and literatures focusing on Japanese language and world business. She recently was named a Fulbright recipient and will travel to Japan, where she will research the role of Japanese women under the Imperial government. She served in the US Marine Corps and was deployed to Korea, Sendai, and Japan.
- Rayleana Schenkenfelder, of Claiborne County, Tennessee, who graduated in December 2017 with a Master of Business Administration. A first-generation college graduate, she served in the US Air Force.
- Carrie Smith, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education, focusing in kinesiology. Smith served as a medic in the US Army.
- JoAnn Walker, who graduated in December 2017 with a Master of Business Administration. She retired as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy after 20 years of service.
Graduates who weren’t able to attend Tuesday’s ceremony will receive their quilts at a later date. They are:
- Jennifer Corcoran, who will graduate with a doctorate in social work.
- Jennifer Johnson, who will graduate with a master’s in social work. She served from 1992 until 2016 in the United States Navy.
- Alicia Davis, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, focusing on bioscience.
- Kaitlyn Hansen, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Hansen served in the US Navy as a boatswainmate onboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
- Jaime Krone, who will graduate with a master’s degree in social work.
- Erika Poulter, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Poulter serves in the US Air Force Reserves.
- Orora Stella Sezenias, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She served in the US Air Force and was deployed to Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Iraq, and Japan.
- Whitney La’Ryan Woods, who is graduating with a degree in marketing. She served in the US Air Force as a signal intelligence analyst and was awarded the Joint Service Achievement Medal for her work in Hawaii.
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