For countless Volunteer fans across the country, experiencing the energy of Neyland Stadium is a moment they only dream of. Knoxville native Uriah Richey got to live that dream as squad leader of the Pride of the Southland Color Guard.
“Being in Neyland, on the field at halftime, in front of thousands of people—I don’t know how to explain that feeling,” Richey said. “It’s so exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time.”
Handling nervous energy from the crowd was an easy task for Richey compared to her greatest challenge—coming to UT as a first-generation college student. She had to blaze her own trail, embarking on a difficult path no one in her family had traveled before.
“Attending college is not something that I’m just doing for myself, it’s something that I’m doing for my family, too,” said Richey, who will graduate with a double major in Africana studies and sociology with a concentration in critical race and ethnic studies.
In addition to her leadership in the color guard, Richey served as a resident assistant in Massey Hall, an officer for the campus chapters of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the NAACP, a member of the 1794 Scholars program, and a precollege mentor in the Project GRAD Summer Institute. She also volunteered at her alma mater, Knoxville’s Fulton High School. This spring, she was recognized with the Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service award, one of the highest honors for a UT undergraduate.
“Uriah is committed both intellectually and in spirit to the university and her community,” said Michelle Brown, a sociology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and one of Richey’s favorite instructors.
Navigating new territory as a first-gen student only pushed Richey to work harder. As the inaugural recipient of the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Scholarship, Richey felt an enormous responsibility to succeed. Fulton High School awards the scholarship annually to honor the legacy of Dobson, who died during his sophomore year in 2015 protecting the lives of his friends when they were threatened by an act of gun violence in their neighborhood.
“I went to school with Zaevion, and when he passed away it brought our community together—our Knoxville community, but also the community at Fulton,” Richey said. “Receiving an award in his memory means a lot. I had to make sure that I lived up to that honor.”
Dedicated to fulfilling that mission, Richey prioritized uplifting her community while working toward her degree. Invested in numerous local outreach programs, Richey organized panel discussions at middle and high schools throughout Knoxville to educate students about the college experience and opportunities available to them. She also worked to combat food insecurity, creating plans to build a community garden at Walter P. Taylor Boys and Girls Club and teaching healthy lifestyle habits to kids at the center. For Richey, service is instinctual.
“There have been so many great people who have helped me, and I want to pass that on,” Richey said. “The most basic and humane thing that we can do for one another is just help each other, be kind to each other, and treat each other the way you want to be treated.”
That mentality has defined Richey and driven her as a servant leader.
Richey plans to get her master’s degree in public administration and then go to law school and become a civil rights attorney. Her long-term goal is to run for office, serving as a Tennessee state representative.
“I’ve chosen a career oriented around serving others. It’s something that was taught to me by my family and something I’ve experienced growing up here in Knoxville,” Richey said. “Being a Vol means giving back and putting others before yourself . . . and I want to make the place that I grew up in better.”
This spring, the university will award 4,625 degrees—3,415 undergraduate degrees, 1,014 graduate degrees and certificates, 117 law degrees, and 79 veterinary medicine degrees. Although in-person commencement ceremonies in May had to be postponed for safety, UT plans to honor 2020 graduates on campus in person as soon as it’s safe. See the commencement website for details.
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)