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The Grad Box includes a congratulations poster with the university seal and a tassel and mortarboard.

This spring’s graduates experienced a commencement season unlike any other. Their final semester ended abruptly online, and in-person commencement ceremonies had to be postponed for safety. Although we couldn’t celebrate in person, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, sent a little piece of Rocky Top home to its 4,625 newest graduates.

All spring 2020 graduates are receiving a congratulatory gift in the mail as a welcome to the alumni family of more than 250,000 Volunteers worldwide.

The grad boxes include a printed program for the graduates and their families, a letter from Chancellor Donde Plowman and Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs Duane Wiles, a poster with the university’s seal to commemorate the campus tradition of avoiding the seal on Johnson–Ward Pedestrian Walkway until graduation, and various UT alumni gifts.

A photo of Smokey on an alumni booklet welcomed graduates to the Vol family
Smokey welcomes new alumni to the Vol family.

“It meant the world to me to receive that gift in the mail,” said Haley Foley, a graduate from Knoxville who earned a master’s degree in school counseling this spring. “The previous few weeks had been difficult. It’s easy to feel unnoticed, as this moment you have worked so hard for is gone, but I’m grateful UT has been so supportive and taking these extra steps to make graduates feel seen and valued.”

The boxes also included a mortarboard and tassel to be worn at a future in-person commencement celebration as soon as it’s safe.

“The grad boxes were one small way we could honor the traditional commencement season in May,” said Kari Alldredge, vice provost for enrollment management. “Given everything the Class of 2020 persevered through, we still wanted to create an experience for our graduates to make them feel special and cared for and to celebrate their amazing achievement.”

UT continues to follow guidance from public health officials, who are cautioning communities about mass gatherings. The university is exploring options for both this fall and spring 2021 for all 2020 graduates and will continue to keep everyone updated.

The outside of the Grad Box paid tribute to UT's Alma Mater "On a Hallowed Hill" and Aloha Oe celebrations at Ayres Hall
The outside of the Grad Box pays tribute to UT’s Alma Mater “On a Hallowed Hill” and Aloha Oe celebrations at Ayres Hall.


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,