Four years to make a difference; four years to create change; four years to inspire the next generation of Volunteers; four years to learn what it means to bear the torch.
Each year, select UT seniors are presented with the Torchbearer Award, which is considered to be the highest student honor at UT.
The Torchbearer Award is given to seniors who have shown excellency in both academics and service. The award is focused on those who have shown a genuine care for others through their achievements.
Natalie Campbell, student body president and advocate for those with disabilities, came to college with a mission to follow her passions without fear. Campbell’s leadership capabilities and willingness to take every opportunity that came her way made her the perfect candidate for the Torchbearer award.
On Feb. 25, Campbell was surprised by Chancellor Donde Plowman at a Student Government Association event in the Student Union, where she was then awarded as a Torchbearer. Campbell was surrounded by her friends that have worked alongside her in student government as she was given balloons and more to commemorate her achievements.
Campbell explained why the award is so special to her.
“What I love about the Torchbearer award is that it is presented to leaders at UT for being humble. The people that are awarded often do not expect to be recognized, but that’s something that makes it so special,” Campbell said.
The Torchbearer’s Creed, “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light unto others,” was adopted 50 years ago and is represented on campus by the Torchbearer statue at Circle Park. This creed inspired the creation of the award to reward students who relay the light of the torchbearer to others throughout the community.
Campbell has worked in advocacy for years. She initiated the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign at her middle school and high school; the campaign aims to end the use of the R-word, which is often spoken as a slur toward those with disabilities.
Campbell was inspired to head this initiative locally in support of her younger sister, Olivia, who has Down syndrome. The Campbell sisters were brought up in a supportive household that encouraged this kind of advocacy.
“My mom taught me how to be a strong female leader. She made me believe I was capable of doing anything I wanted to do and took me seriously from a young age. She gave me the confidence I needed when I was younger to pursue my goals,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s work with people with disabilities inspired her to pursue a double major in Disability Studies, as part of the College Scholars Program, and Philosophy with a concentration in legal and political philosophy.
Campbell acknowledged that her achievements have been made possible with the support of many others, including her fellow SGA representatives and several UT faculty members.
“My (SGA) executive cabinet is the real torchbearer. Their work behind the scenes often goes unnoticed, but they continue to show care for the student body and genuinely care about the collective over praise for their work. UT’s faculty, specifically Dr. Adam Cureton, Dr. Andrew Seidler and Dr. Elizabeth MacTavish have all helped me to achieve my goals,” Campbell said.
Campbell was nominated for the award by the Director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships Andrew Seidler, and he explained his decision to recommend Campbell for the Honor.
“Natalie’s track record of leadership at UT is well-documented, but for me, what separates Natalie is the extraordinary advocacy work she has initiated alongside the disability community on campus, in Knoxville and across the state of Tennessee, and also the way she has infused her advocacy into her academic pursuits and vice versa,” Seidler said.
Seidler added that overall, Campbell is a fantastic leader in the Vol community, who is deserving of the great recognition she has received.
“It’s no wonder Natalie has garnered so many prestigious accolades, including as UT’s first-ever Mitchell Scholar. She’s just a special person and outstanding representative of our university,” Seidler said.