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University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students received a big surprise today when Peyton Manning dropped in on John Haas’ Communication Studies Senior Capstone class.

“I realize this a unique time and probably not the ideal way you guys expected to spend your senior year,” Manning said. “I just encourage you to keep a positive attitude, keep doing what you’re doing, and try to take advantage of the little bit of extra time you have to accomplish something else or help out somebody in need.

“There are a lot people hurting out there during this time. Be thankful for what you have and just know the University of Tennessee is proud of you and is going to support you every way they can. Dr. Haas and his department are going to do the same thing.”

Today’s surprise—dubbed VFL Class Crash—is the first in a series of online class drop-ins planned throughout the rest of this semester featuring well-known Tennessee alumni, Vols for Life (VFLs), and other friends of the university. Colleges across the country have transitioned to online learning environments in response to COVID-19. Leaders at UT are creating new ways to support student success and celebrate their achievements.

Manning encouraged the students to find somebody they can help during this time—the elderly, parents and grandparents who need to stay safe during this time. After he left the class, Haas reiterated to his students what they had just directly heard from one of UT’s most decorated and celebrated alumni.

“I know it’s a stressful time but Peyton was exactly right when he told the students that the folks at UT are going to do everything possible to make sure they navigate this transition well,” he said.

Chancellor Donde Plowman said the VFL Class Crash is just one of the many ways the Volunteer family is coming together to support students during this time.

“We want our students to know that Vols for Life, alumni, our leadership, and the entire campus community are here to support and encourage them to finish out the semester strong,” she said. “These are the times that define us as Volunteers. We are committed to keeping our community healthy and hopeful, and continuing to focus on our student success.”

Volunteers on campus and off have stepped up during this time—making face shields for health care workers; donating protective gear and lab materials to medical facilities, raising money for students needing emergency funds; providing online tutoring support to support academic success; and delivering groceries to neighbors—to show support for one another near and far.

“Choosing to attend UT is about more than getting a great education—our students join a Volunteer Community that carries beyond graduation,” said Kari Alldredge, vice provost for enrollment management. “Our graduates and VFLs like Peyton Manning, are proof of the power of the Volunteer experience. While we’re connecting in this virtual learning environment, this is a reminder of who we are and all we can accomplish together.”

Manning graduated from UT in 1997, with a degree in communication studies and credits Haas as a professor who supports students during their time at UT and well beyond.

“Most of all, Peyton wanted to lift people’s spirits,” said Haas. “Vols help Vols, and this is just one of many ways an alum wanted to give back to our students.”

He also told his students to not be surprised if they see others dropping in for surprise appearances.

“You just never know who may show up to class.”


Tyra Haag (865-696-1941,