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When Amaya Linsey walked across the stage to receive her degree today, her family loudly cheered her name from their section in Thompson-Boling Arena. Nearly 20 of them had traveled the six hours from Memphis to be there for her graduation.

But what Linsey never expected was to see her older brother—Airman First Class Jerald Linsey Jr., home on special leave from his Air Force assignment in North Dakota—waiting at the end of the stage to embrace her with open arms.

“When I saw him, I instantly started crying,” said Linsey.

The last time the siblings saw each other in person was nearly a year ago, on Christmas Eve. Later that same day, Jerald left for North Dakota.

Linsey had spoken to her brother before graduation to ask if she would see him for the holidays. He had already missed Thanksgiving last month. But Jerald let out no hints about his graduation plans, and Linsey was resigned to not seeing her brother again until sometime in 2019.

“I really wanted to be here to surprise her,” said Jerald. “I was so nervous I didn’t know if I’d be able to speak.”

Linsey, only the second in her family to earn a college degree, received a bachelor’s degree in retail and consumer science.

For the past four years she has been one of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences’ top students, excelling in both academics and as an active member of the campus community. Among her many commitments, she served as president of the National Retail Federation Student Association; worked as an office assistant in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management; and was involved with the Multicultural Mentoring Program, Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity, and NAACP. She is also a Dean’s List Scholar and ME4UT Scholar.

“I always knew Amaya had a big future ahead of her,” said Lucy Simpson, internship coordinator for retail and consumer sciences, who initiated the brother-sister reunion surprise.

Simpson recalls her first meeting with Linsey, the enthusiastic student who quickly took a front-row seat for her Intro to Retail Management class during fall 2015. Since then, Simpson has been Linsey’s academic advisor and overseen her work study. She visited her in Wisconsin last summer when Linsey interned in product development at Kohl’s corporate headquarters.

Ann Fairhurst, department head for retail, hospitality, and tourism management, echoed Simpson’s praise for Linsey.

“Amaya excelled in her classes, provided leadership to our student organization, and was a pleasure to have in our program,” she said. “I’m looking forward to following her success in the retail industry.”

After graduation, Linsey will move home to Memphis and spend the spring traveling before looking for a career in fashion retailing. For now, she’s just excited to have the chance to spend some time with her older brother before he has to return to the base in North Dakota on Sunday.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Linsey. “I’m getting emotional again thinking about it. Him being here just makes this day even more special.”

CONTACT:

Brian Canever (865-974-0937, bcanever@utk.edu)

Jules Morris (865-719-7072, julesmo@utk.edu)