John Shearer: CCS Graduate Daniel Dassow Honored To Be Named A UT Torchbearer

  • Wednesday, May 31, 2023
  • John Shearer
As editor-in-chief of the University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon, Daniel Dassow was used to writing about those who made the campus news.

The Chattanooga Christian School graduate recently saw the tables turned, though, as he was the newsmaker. Mr. Dassow learned this spring shortly before graduating that he had been named a Torchbearer.

“I didn’t think I would get an award like this,” joked Mr. Dassow as he recently reflected on the honor during a phone interview while looking back at his college career.

Considered the highest undergraduate honor at UT and perhaps slightly unique in the American college community, the 55-year-old yearly honor recognizes graduating seniors who have distinguished themselves through leadership, service and achievement as students.
It traces its origin to the historic UT student creed regarding figuratively lighting a way for others, and the landmark Torchbearer/Volunteer statue by Circle Park there was inspired by the saying.

He is one of only 11 honorees this year, with fellow Chattanoogan and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences graduate Diego Lourenco, among the others. Mr. Lourenco, a data science and analytics major, was recognized for his work as president of the Multicultural Greek Council and for his fund-raising work with Latin American student organizations, among other leadership efforts.

Mr. Dassow, the son of Paul and Jeanie Dassow of Lookout Mountain, was praised for his work with the student newspaper and the other campus publications to which he has contributed. He is also a tutor in the university’s writing center.

He said he was touched at how the school recognized his writing and journalism as much as the more tangible signs of service and volunteerism the honorees usually possess.

“To me it is really meaningful to see how the university has acknowledged writing as a way to do leadership and service,” he said, adding that he has interviewed past Torchbearer honorees in his student newspaper work. “It is not just a form of expression.”

Mr. Dassow – who spent the first nine years of his life in Lexington, Ky., before the family moved to Chattanooga – said he became seriously interested in writing during his years at CCS in his English classes.

“Something I was good at was surprising my teachers with something I wrote,” he said. “I always wanted people to read what I had written. I figured out my audience was my teacher. If I could write something in a way that was funny or interesting, I could get a higher grade.”

While in high school, he served as editor-in-chief of the Charger newspaper, helping get it started in digital publication. He also served as newspaper editor when he attended the Governor’s School for the Humanities at UT-Martin.

When he came to UT, he studied English and became interested in studying religion, too. While the world religions studies he did at CCS was from more of a Christian perspective as is typical of a Christian high school, he liked getting to experience a more objective look at the topic in his UT program while still maintaining his Christian faith.

“It was a totally new way to study religions, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “It was important to see others’ religions from a more objective view. They were some of the favorite classes I took.”

One was a mindfulness class he took from Dr. Megan Bryson, he said. He also enjoyed such English courses as persuasive writing under Dr. Lisa King and one on antebellum black writers taught by Dr. Katy Chiles.

“I had a really amazing educational experience,” he said of his time at UT. “I learned a lot, not just from my professors, but also from my classmates.”

Of course, he also did a lot of writing as well as reading at UT. This spring he won the Department of English Undergraduate Essay Prize. And as a contributor to the Daily Beacon, he went on to become editor-in-chief his senior year, putting in around the 30 hours a week the job required.

While school newspapers in their printed form are not what students immediately grab from a box or bin like their parents’ or grandparents’ generations might have done, Mr. Dassow said the paper is still read some in its once-a-week printed form. He said an edition devoted to homecoming came out right after the historic UT football win over Alabama for the first time in 16 years, and many wanted to grab it.

He also tried to help the paper focus on the more likely ways students might read articles through links on various social media platforms.

“It’s such a rapidly changing landscape, and students get their news from social media,” he said. “So, we scaled back print. We are not printing up as much. But I do walk into class to see people holding the Daily Beacon.”

Mr. Dassow got married last year after meeting in a dining hall his freshman year his future wife, Presley, who was named due to her grandmother’s affection for Elvis. The two students were both English majors and sat by each other at the recent UT graduation.

They currently live in an apartment in the Sequoyah Hills area of Knoxville and Mr. Dassow hopes to land a journalism or writing job and stay in Knoxville if possible. He would like to do a little of everything in journalism writing while accumulating bylines. He enjoys feature writing and might enjoy stories that involve public records requests. He also enjoys writing across genres, including poetry and fiction writing.

Getting a master’s in journalism at UT is also a plan, as is teaching in some form, including at the high school level, where he can be a mentor.

While staying in Knoxville is likely, Mr. Dassow’s heart is still as close to Chattanooga as are the mountains.

“I spent my most formative years in Chattanooga and love the city’s landscape and how the river integrates into it,” he said.

He also had a chance to observe Chattanooga culturally and socially as well as geographically through some jobs in recent years. He was a line cook at Slick’s Burgers off Main Street, and he worked with True Shine window cleaning firm and interned for former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s unsuccessful 2018 Senate campaign against Marsha Blackburn.

“I got to know the city a lot better,” he said.

Those were jobs in which others shined the light for him, and he is hoping as a UT Torchbearer to continue lighting the way for others.

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