Stepping onto UT’s campus each fall, incoming freshman are greeted with an energy that flows into every nook and cranny. Many students caught their first glimpse of this radiating energy which seemed to bubble up from the ground during their orientation or their first visit. It’s an energy that sparks off of current students into the community.
This energy that has been passed on from one generation to the next generation of Vols has been a tradition from the very beginning. That spark is the Volunteer spirit.
“There’s a spirit here and it’s hard to describe,” Eric Haag, senior director of alumni programs and outreach and graduate from UT, said. “But when you’re a part of it, a part of the Big Orange family, you know exactly what it means and it’s mostly intangible, until you’re here and can feel it, can see it, and then it becomes really tangible.”
The Volunteer spirit isn’t just about volunteering, but rather about working hard for something outside of yourself, using your passion, talent, leadership or even just your hardworking nature to help others in the community.
For many, the Volunteer Spirit is reflected in the Torchbearer’s Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.”
Veronica Webb, sophomore in marketing and Student Government Association’s Traditions Committee co-director, felt that the creed summed up the Volunteer Spirit.
“I really think that that sets the tone for all Vols — past, present and future — on what the Vol spirit means to everyone,” Webb said. “So, in a sense, when I say I live by the creed I mean that you’re being that light for other people as a Vol. You’re being a Volunteer by being a positive influence, by loving your school, loving your community and taking that light and radiating it on other people.”
The Traditions Committee is one embodiment of the Volunteer Spirit as students from SGA keep UT traditions alive with each new generation of Vols. Some of the traditions that the committee puts on every year includes “Slap the Rock” where students paint The Rock with colorful handprints, all Vol Tailgates before football games, homecoming, and celebrating icons of UT such as Smokey and the “Power T.”
Although there are many aspects of the Volunteer Spirit, volunteering does play a major part and the Clay and Debbie Jones’ Center for Leadership and Service is at the forefront of raising the spirit of helping the community through its many different programs.
Some of the different programs include Ignite, which is extended orientation for first-year students with four different branches serving around 800 or more students a year, and the 25-year-old Alternative Break program, which continues to grow each year by sending students and faculty out to a different community so that they can learn and serve the community within different themes like hunger and homelessness, animal welfare, and youth and education.
Another program is the Leadership Knoxville Scholars program for juniors and seniors which works with Leadership Knoxville in four components: academics, mentorship, learning more about Knoxville and service by working with a non-profit in Knoxville.
“All of our programs have some component of leadership and service in them, “Laura Ketola, assistant director of the JCLS, said. “So, to us, to be a good leader, you need to know how to serve people and we believe that service is a form of leadership.”
Ketola also said the Volunteer Spirit has really been woven into the fabric of the university including within the JCLS, other departments on campus, into the curriculum and within daily student, faculty and staff life.
“I think that for me I see students learning that they can help other people and show the Volunteer Spirit in a variety of ways. It doesn’t just have to be, ‘I go and do service,’ it doesn’t have to be, ‘get a job and give money back to people,’” Ketola said. “I think people are using all of their experiences to help others, so it’s more fused into every part of the university life.”
And the Volunteer Spirit doesn’t leave once students graduate. Haag said that he sees the Volunteer Spirit within the alumni he reaches out to every day, as well as in his own life as he interacts with students.
“In summary, the Volunteer Spirit ... it’s not just for today, it’s not just a memory, people don’t just come to UT and then just leave it,” Haag said. “It’s something that will be with you forever and ever.”
Haag also said he sees it every year at the Volunteer Leadership Conference weekend, where alumni from the Young Alumni Council, chapter presidents and other alumni come to UT to see the changes, interact with the students and celebrate UT.
Haag also said that there are a lot of contributing factors to the Volunteer Spirit including football games, clubs and organizations and through the students.
However, it there are moments of doubt for students who don’t know if they belong at UT, Webb encouraged that the Volunteer Spirit endlessly shines within each person.
“I feel like, never let the Volunteer Spirit die within you,” Webb said. “If there’s ever a time where you feel discouraged or that you don’t belong here, that there’s a reason why you’re here and that much like the Torchbearer, how it shines a light endlessly that that light also shines in you as a Vol.”