Graduating University of Tennessee seniors Paige Atchley and Diane Tate from Chattanooga recently reached the scholastic equivalent of Rocky Top – they were selected as Torchbearers.
Considered the highest honor a UT-Knoxville senior can receive, the recognition is given to those students with a solid academic standing who also distinguish themselves through campus leadership and service to others.
In fact, when Miss Atchley found out last week from UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek that she was one of the 12 selected, she was putting in some leadership service with the Student Senate. But the news was still quite overwhelming and unexpected.
“It’s unbelievable,” the Soddy Daisy High School graduate said. “When I first found out, I cried. It was a very humbling experience.”
Miss Tate, a Boyd-Buchanan graduate, was also touched to be named. “It’s an amazing accomplishment and I’m so honored to receive it,” she said, adding that she, like Miss Atchley, received plenty of congratulations from fellow students.
As the two talked earlier this week from the Hodges Library Starbuck’s on campus during a break prior to final exams and graduation exercises, they displayed an emotional torchlight-like beam about their obviously positive experiences at UT.
But UT did not appear to be in their immediate futures when they were in high school.
“UT was on my ‘do not come’ list because a lot of people I knew came to UT,” Miss Tate said with a smile.
However, she decided to visit the school, liked the campus and opportunities available, and soon knew where she wanted to go to college.
“Not long after that I told my family I was going to be a Vol and announced it at church,” said the daughter of Kimberly Gamble and granddaughter of Etta Bledsoe.
Miss Atchley’s parents, Lori and longtime Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency official Greg Atchley, were UT alumni, and her siblings, Eric and Brynn Atchley, were also attending the school. But that was still not enough to recruit the high school senior with a 4.0 grade point average to Knoxville initially.
“I wanted to go out of state, but that didn’t work out,” she said. “It is the best thing that ever fell in my lap.”
Part of the reason Miss Atchley likes it is the positive atmosphere on campus.
“People always seem like they are excited about being here,” she said. “They are always excited about being Vols. It makes it a great place to be.”
Miss Atchley and Miss Tate both hit the ground running after moving into Morrill Hall and Massey Hall, respectively, their freshmen years.
After they became acquainted on Freshmen Council, Miss Atchley went on to earn a 3.85 GPA in marketing with international business and communication studies dual concentrations. She has also been involved in such groups as Student Government Association, where she served as vice president, and was the co-founder of the campus philanthropic organization, Impact.
Miss Tate has maintained a 3.65 GPA in communication studies with a double major in political science and has been active with the Commission for Blacks and SGA, among other organizations.
They are so busy that their weekly schedules look more like a senior executive in the corporate world than a senior in college. They both kiddingly said that a typical school day for them is full of meetings, and “meetings in between meetings,” Miss Atchley added.
As a result of their extra focus on academics and leadership and service work, they have both not done too well in the area of handling stress or getting enough sleep, they said.
But it has all been for a good cause, they believe.
“We got out of UT what we put into it,” said Miss Atchley.
And that was plenty, added Miss Tate, who admitted that she probably was a little too ambitious her freshman year and spread herself too thin. “It was the best, most busy, most stressful, most amazing experience ever,” she said of her four years.
Although they both love UT dearly, all their work with various UT organizations has given each of them some ideas regarding how they think UT can improve.
Miss Tate feels the university can do even better in getting minority students more involved and engaged at UT, and making sure those students are retained so that they can graduate.
Along the same lines, Miss Atchley thinks the school does a lot for freshmen and seniors to make them feel a part of the UT community, but not as much for sophomores or juniors. “That’s where we lose a lot of students,” she said.
Miss Tate will be graduating on May 7 – her birthday – and will soon join Target, where she has interned, as an executive in a yet-to-be-announced city. She might also like to go to law school eventually and maybe start her own public relations firm.
“I think it is important for people to know how to manage relationships,” she said.
Miss Atchley will graduate on May 9 and will be moving to Nashville to work in the inaugural class of the Tennessee Governors Management Fellowship, a two-year commitment.
After that, she might enjoy working in the area of public school reform, she added.
But for now, the admittedly bittersweet time of graduation is at hand for both of them. They are excited about the opportunities ahead, but say they will certainly miss their friendships and campus support networks they have built.
But what will remain for both of them at UT long after they leave are their hearts, as they both say they are definitely Vols for life.
“I wouldn’t want to be anything else,” said Miss Tate with emotion.