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A boy has his face painted during the 225th anniversary block party in Circle Park.

During the 2019–20 academic year, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, celebrated the land-grant institution’s 225th anniversary. Although spring celebration plans were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, that didn’t stop the overall impact of this important year in UT history on students, faculty, staff, and the community.

Events Celebrated Past, Present, and Future

The premiere of the university’s unique anniversary video kicked off the slate of observances at the Alumni Awards gala on September 6, 2019. In a technique never used before at UT, images were projected onto Ayres Hall and digitally filmed with a voiceover by Peyton Manning. The video later aired as a national television spot.

The anniversary theme, “Lighting the Way”—inspired by UT’s official symbol, the Torchbearer—was introduced that night and carried through the year.

A slew of festivities marked Founding Day on September 10. The Big Orange Birthday Party offered games, carnival rides, and giveaways for students, faculty, and staff to enjoy on Humanities and Social Sciences Plaza. Trek to the Smokeys invited the campus community to visit each of the 10 Smokey statues on campus for orange candy and a different 225-themed giveaway. That evening, alumni were invited to campus for a block party in Circle Park with kids’ activities, face painting, live music, and delicious Tennessee-inspired food.

On February 25, 2/25 Day, the campus community celebrated again with the food-themed events 225 Ways to Top a Pancake and 225 Ways to Dip a Chip. The remaining food, which coincidentally came to exactly 225 pounds, was collected and donated to local food pantries. Other events hosted by campus groups included the Pride Center birthday party, a faculty pub, and an open house with members of the chancellor’s cabinet. Students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to donate cans of food and to round up campus dining purchases on 2/25 Day to fund Smokey’s Pantry, which provides assistance to students with food insecurity needs.

Throughout the year, events including Homecoming, the UT vs. Brigham Young University football game, and commencement included tributes to the anniversary.

“The 225th anniversary was an opportunity for our campus to celebrate the accomplishments of our past, present, and future,” said Beth Gladden, chair of the anniversary committee and director of special events for the university. “The events and the stories showcased the impact of UT across the state and the world.”

Those stories are collected on the 225th anniversary website, with category names that reflect UT’s unique identity and strategic priorities: the Volunteer Spirit, Forging Leaders, Serving Our State and World, Eternal Flame, Sparking Creativity, Illuminating Research, and 225 Years of Volunteers. Stories about UT’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic complete the anniversary compilation, replacing those originally planned for the final months.

Volunteers Performed Community Service

Another integral part of UT’s impact, community service, was a part of the 225th anniversary. When asked to give back to their communities, volunteers performed 132,370 hours of service during the year, both on and off campus. Students led the way with 117,012 hours, followed by faculty and staff with 9,309 hours and alumni with 6,050 hours. The largest single-day events were Chancellor Donde Plowman’s Day of Service on November 15 and service projects held on 2/25 Day.

“Tennessee, unlike any other school, is guided by the Volunteer spirit,” said Laura Ketola, assistant director of UT’s Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service. “It is our desire to serve others that has and will continue to set us apart. Unlike the number of degrees and graduates, the amount of time and effort Volunteers have put into serving their communities goes far beyond the 225th anniversary and cannot be fully measured.”

225 Years of History Archived

UT invited the public and the campus community to a 225th anniversary exhibit in John C. Hodges Library that included playbooks from General Robert Neyland and Coach Pat Summitt, vintage athletics memorabilia and uniforms, the original Smokey mascot costume, scores of the alma mater and “Rocky Top,” yearbooks, textbooks, and a display about each college. The collection of items from University Archives was on display for the duration of the fall semester.

“One of the best parts of being the university archivist is opening up our archival boxes and sharing that history with UT and our community,” said Alesha Shumar, who put together the exhibit. “One of my favorite moments was showing General Neyland’s handwritten playbooks. His plays are written in pencil and his postgame commentary is extraordinary. My other favorite moment happened while installing the 225th exhibit. As we were setting up, students and faculty came to our display windows and knocked on the glass asking for more information about the artifacts. It was so great to see our UT community spending time and enjoying the exhibit.”

UT history buffs also enjoyed a searchable digital historic timeline and an audio walking tour of 20 campus locations. Both were created as part of the anniversary year and will be maintained afterward.

“People personalized this anniversary,” Gladden said. “Everyone found a way to celebrate: individuals, departments, colleges, alumni. It was a time the entire Volunteer community came together to celebrate our great institution.”

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary year. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary