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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing celebrated another year of educating the next generation of nurse leaders and health care professionals with its 12th annual NightinGala, which was livestreamed due to COVID-19.

Country music star and Academy of Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year Thomas Rhett surprised guests with a prerecorded performance of his chart-topping hit “Be a Light” to conclude the livestream.

Chancellor Donde Plowman and College of Nursing Dean Victoria Niederhauser shared messages during the event, which also included a live auction that featured VIP tickets for the singer’s 2021 The Center Point Road tour.

“This event is important for so many reasons,” Thomas Rhett shared. “My wife graduated from the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing in 2012, and this cause is definitely close to our hearts. As nurses, you all are such beacons of light in this world, and we’re incredibly grateful for the work you’re doing.”

All proceeds from the event support the college’s efforts to develop and educate the next generation of nurse leaders by providing nursing students with scholarships, state-of-the art technology, and equipment. A week of fundraising, including a silent auction, led up to the event.

“We are so thankful for the support of Thomas Rhett, his wife, Lauren Akins, our sponsors, advisory board members, alumni, faculty, students, and staff,” said Niederhauser. “The scholarships awarded with the proceeds of this event are life-changing and ease the financial burden for our students who are pursuing their dreams of earning a nursing degree.”

This wasn’t the first time the singer has shown support to the university. In March, the couple surprised 65 nursing students during an online pharmacology class as part of VFL Class Crash, a series of surprise drop-ins to encourage students during the end of the spring semester. They told the students how proud they were for persevering during the pandemic.

Sponsors for the NightinGala included BarberMcMurry Architects, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, UT Medical Center, the Phillips family, Partners Development, Food City, Johnson Architecture, and SLAM Collaborative.

The auction will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, November 21. For more information visit


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