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Commencement ceremony in for the Haslam College of Business inside Neyland Stadium
A graduate sits on the field in Neyland Stadium for a Spring 2021 commencement ceremony.

This past weekend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, held five in-person commencement ceremonies honoring 2021 and 2020 graduates in Neyland Stadium. Graduates and guests gathered safely outdoors with masks and social distancing to celebrate their perseverance through an unforgettable year.

Chancellor Donde Plowman cited UT’s traditional Torchbearer’s Creed as she addressed graduates, congratulating them on their hard work and thanking them for carrying the Volunteer spirit.

“You may be stepping into a world that has been unmoored by this shared experience, but you are also the ones who will help us find the path forward . . . . ‘One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.’ That is what you have learned to do in your years here on Rocky Top. It’s what you will continue to do when you leave this campus. And it’s why I know you are ready,” Plowman told graduates.

This spring, the university awarded approximately 4,825 degrees—3,548 undergraduate degrees, 1,065 graduate degrees and certificates, 121 law degrees, and 91 veterinary medicine degrees. Additionally, 17 Air Force ROTC cadets and 22 Army ROTC cadets were commissioned.

Bill Dance

Professional fisher, television personality, and conservationist Bill Dance was awarded an honorary degree in natural resources from the Herbert College of Agriculture for his lifetime of work supporting agriculture and natural resources sciences. A native Tennessean, Dance is one of the most recognizable outdoor sports figures in the world, holding three BASS Angler of the Year titles among many other accomplishments. He is most widely known for his television show, Bill Dance Outdoors, which launched in 1968 on a local Memphis station and continues to this day as one of the longest-running television shows in history.

Dance has an unparalleled depth of knowledge about fishing, fish behavior, microclimates of streams, and the influence of weather on whether fish are biting. His contributions to conservation and outdoor recreation are numerous, and his work comes from his passion for fishing and respect for the environment.

In its 226 years, the university has granted 20 honorary degrees. The UT Board of Trustees recognizes individuals who have benefited the university or society through outstanding achievements or leadership. Honorees have included leaders of industry, journalists, civil rights activists, astronauts, government leaders, a Disney princess, and Dolly Parton.

The excitement of graduates was evident as they crossed the stage in Neyland Stadium. Jazmin Garrett, a first-generation political science graduate from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, knew the ceremony would be historic but was surprised at how intimate the moment felt.

“I didn’t think I’d be in Neyland again as a student because of the pandemic. Being here today, I got to experience the same magical feeling of being surrounded by fellow Vols for a common purpose again,” she said. “I think this graduation also symbolizes the grand finish line for all the challenges that we seniors have faced navigating virtual classes and organizations. We’ve made it!”


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,