University of Tennessee marks 225 years of higher education, Volunteer spirit

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – 225 years ago today, what the world now calls the University of Tennessee began as Blount College.

From a two-story building with just a handful of students, and three name changes later, growing to what Vol Nation now knows as the University of Tennessee.

“You know becoming a Volunteer really means connecting to the past, people that brought you up to put you where you are today, and also to help those future students into who they’re going to be tomorrow,” said University of Tennessee Archivist, Alesha Shumar.

“So we talk, we highlight the first women, the first international students, the first African American students,” Shumar added as she highlighted the exhibit marking the University’s milestone in Hodges Library—“Lighting the Way: 225 Years of Volunteers.”

“The students were fighting for what their voices – for what they were putting their voices out there to say… there was a lot going on and we have it all documented,” said Shumar.

Much like the blood drives students held for Vietnam during the war.

“… And just kind of what the student experience was through the ’70s,” Shumar said.

Even before that, in the early ’30s, the archives have documented the international competition held for what symbol would be used to represent UT, what Vol Nation now calls the Torch Bearer.

“The original winner was actually holding a lantern and not a torch and so that went to the student body and they voted to make a couple of changes; they made the torch bearer a little younger, a little more fit, and then he was holding a torch,” Shumar said.

And the beloved volunteer mascot Smokey, one of the earliest versions of him in the ’70s looks drastically different than the Smokey orange and white nation knows and loves today. From the university’s first cheerleader, a male professor in 1907, to handwritten plays and game strategies from General Neyland and Pat Summitt, all the historical items come from the people who make up the volunteer state.

“People bring us artifacts and scrapbooks and things that their parents had maybe and these things all tell the story of Tennessee,” said Dean of Libraries at the university, Steven Smith. “Because our history tells us our future. The discoveries, the inventions, the research, the public service that comes out of here – we can’t count up the benefit to the state, the lives that have been saved, the lives that have been improved because of research done in the labs, the outreach, the extension service.”

The university’s exhibit will stay open through the Fall Semester on the first floor of Hodges Library.

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