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Haslam Commencement SB
Chancellor Donde Plowman shakes hands with a graduate crossing the stage at one of the commencement ceremonies this spring.

More than 5,300 graduates crossed the commencement stage at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, celebrating their achievements alongside family, friends, classmates and mentors. Over the course of 11 ceremonies held May 16-18, the university awarded more than 5,600 undergraduate, graduate, law and veterinary medicine degrees.

Along with this year’s graduates, Chancellor Donde Plowman recognized an honorary degree awarded to the late Bob Booker, Tennessee’s first Black state representative and a leader in Knoxville’s Civil Rights movement. Plowman presented the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the College of Arts and Sciences to Booker at his home in East Knoxville in February, a little more than a week before his passing.

In a video played during the college’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, Booker shared his appreciation for the recognition and offered advice to the graduates.

“I thank you for this moment of reflecting on how savoring and important the occasion is for a high honor like this, and I’m grateful,” he said. “You who are about to graduate today have had some of the greatest experiences of your lives, and professors steeped in their particular fields have given their best thinking.

“But it is my fervent prayer that you will leave this place and work hard at your chosen profession, and also that you will use your experience in education to help guide your community. Our world is still too full of hate, violence, intolerance and injustice. Only an enlightened public can change that.”

Honorary degrees are reserved for those whose life’s work has made the world better — through discovery, art, community engagement, leadership or service — and are granted through the campus administration, the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees.

This spring’s graduating class included approximately 811 first-generation college students, 276 honors students and 119 international students. Thirteen Air Force ROTC cadets and 28 Army ROTC cadets were commissioned. Additionally, 344 graduates earned service medallions to wear during their commencement exercises, commemorating their service to campus and the Knoxville community.

Additional ceremonies were held with other speakers:

Grabenstein, inspired by his years as an improvisational comedian, encouraged graduates to follow the field’s traditional “yes, and” rule in pursuit of new opportunities.

“Saying ‘Yes, and’ is a proud Tennessee tradition,” he said. “So step boldly into your next chapters. Be a true Vol for Life. Don’t let no be all you know. Say yes and you never know where you might end up.”

Take a look at some highlights from the ceremonies.


Maggie Palmer (865-974-3993,