The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will welcome more than 5,250 graduates into its alumni family as they are honored during 11 commencement ceremonies May 20–22.
“Commencement is always a special time for our graduates, their families, and all those who have championed them along the way,” said Provost John Zomchick. “I speak for the university’s entire leadership team when I say how proud we are of our graduates and how eager we are to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Ceremonies will take place in Thompson-Boling Arena and are grouped by academic college, with one hooding ceremony for those receiving graduate and professional degrees and certificates.
This spring the university will award approximately 5,250 degrees and certificates—3,816 undergraduate degrees, 1,229 graduate degrees and certificates, 122 law degrees, and 83 veterinary medicine degrees.
Additionally, 14 Air Force ROTC cadets and 23 Army ROTC cadets will be commissioned. Commissioning recognizes a cadet’s transition from student to leader and is the last step in their four-year training regimen taken before beginning a career as a military officer. The Army ROTC commissioning ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 20, at Alumni Memorial Building. The Air Force ROTC commissioning ceremony will be held at noon on Saturday, May 21, in the Student Union Ballroom. As the Department of the Air Force celebrates the beginnings of the United States Space Force, UT’s Detachment 800 will also celebrate an important milestone commissioning its second batch of officers into the Space Force this year.
Dates and times for each college ceremony are available on the commencement website. All ceremonies will be webcast live for those unable to attend.
This year’s commencement speakers include several notable alumni and distinguished experts. During the 12:30 p.m. ceremony on Friday, May 20, Lady Vol for Life and WNBA legend Tamika Catchings will speak to graduates in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS). Catchings is a CEHHS alumna, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports management.
On Saturday, May 21, Joy Harjo, the 23rd poet laureate of the United States and internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, will be awarded an honorary doctorate in humanities from the College of Arts and Sciences in recognition of her work as an artist and activist.
Also on Saturday, May 21, the president and CEO of Build-a-Bear Workshop, Sharon Price John, will address graduates at the 4 p.m. College of Communication and Information ceremony. John studied communications and advertising, graduating from UT in 1986. Her success has earned her a spot among Fortune’s lists of top CEOs and most powerful women in business.
During her time with the Lady Vols basketball team, Tamika Catchings led the team to a 134–10 record as well as four SEC regular-season championships. She went on to build a successful career in the WNBA, standing as one of the top 15 players in the league’s history. Catchings is a member of both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, 10-time WNBA All-Star, five-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a WNBA champion.
While Catchings is well-known for her success on the basketball court, she is also a driving force behind numerous philanthropic efforts. Catchings credits legendary Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt with giving her the life lessons to be a positive influence both on and off the court.
While Catchings was pursuing her master’s degree, she came up with an idea to help underserved children by focusing on literacy, fitness, and youth development. The result was the Catch the Stars Foundation, which has benefited more than 15,000 youth since its inception in 2004. She also created the Amplification Fund for the UT Health Sciences Center Audiology Department, which supports young adults whose insurance no longer covers the cost of hearing amplifiers.
Catchings currently serves as a color analyst on ESPN and the SEC Networks, providing statistics, strategy, and background information while covering women’s basketball.
Joy Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, several plays, children’s books, and two memoirs; she has also edited several anthologies and produced seven award-winning music albums. During her time as a faculty member in UT’s Department of English, Harjo won several awards including one of the most prestigious prizes in poetry—the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which is bestowed on a living American poet for outstanding lifetime accomplishments.
Her many honors also include the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She also plays saxophone and has released five award-winning CDs. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award for best female artist of the year.
Harjo is a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the National Native American Hall of Fame, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She served as the John C. Hodges Chair of Excellence at UT and is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is the inaugural artist-in-residence of the Bob Dylan Center.
Sharon Price John
As the head of a multimillion dollar company, Sharon Price John has more than 20 years of experience and a strong record of success in positioning children’s brands for growth at companies including Hasbro, Mattel, and Stride Rite Children’s Group, where she helped reinvigorate the struggling kids’ shoe company and became known as a corporate game changer. She started her career in advertising, working at top agencies like DDB Needham Worldwide on the Hershey account and Bates Worldwide as account supervisor for Snickers/M&M Mars.
After earning her MBA from Columbia University in 1994, she became an assistant brand manager for Mattel. Employing her strong work ethic, she quickly rose to vice president of international marketing for Mattel’s Disney Business Unit. From 1999 to 2000, she served as vice president of the US toy division with VTech Industries. In 2013, she took the helm at Build-A-Bear Workshop and within a year had the ailing company making a profit again. She has continued this success while repositioning the company for growth even through a pandemic.
A member of the College of Communication and Information’s Board of Visitors since 2015 and a recipient of CCI’s Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award, she established the Sharon Price John Endowed Scholarship. She’s been recognized as one of UT’s 100 Distinguished Alumni and continues to voice her support for the Vols.
About the Ceremonies
On arrival, graduates will pick up their name card at designated registration tables. The card will be used as the graduate crosses the stage. All graduates will participate in a processional. They will be directed to a designated spot to wait in line.
After crossing the stage, graduates will have their photo taken and are required to return to their seat on the arena floor. The ceremony will conclude with the singing of UT’s alma mater and a joyful rendition of “Rocky Top.”
Graduates will exit at the concourse level and are encouraged to make a plan to meet up with their guests in the parking garage or elsewhere after the ceremony. No guests will be permitted on the arena floor.
Parking and Security
Graduate and guest parking is available in the G10 and G5 parking garages. Graduates should enter Thompson-Boling Arena at the lower-level media entrance marked with orange and white balloons, while guests should enter at the upper-level gates. Tickets are not required for entry. Doors will open for both entrances 90 minutes before the beginning of the ceremony.
The university’s clear bag policy will be enforced. Metal detectors will be in place and guests will be screened on entry by event security staff. Binoculars, cameras, and video cameras are permissible without cases. Guests are asked to bring as little as possible inside the venue with them. This will speed up the entry procedure and reduce chances of lines. Smoking, including e-cigarettes, is prohibited in and on all university property, including in private vehicles parked or in operation on university property.
For more information on what items are allowed and prohibited in the stadium as well as security policies, visit the commencement website.
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, email@example.com)