By Lofton Stuart
For half a century, the University of Tennessee has been the major factor in both my professional and personal life. It has taught me, nurtured me, challenged me and (with great appreciation) paid my bills! But most of all, its impact has, in many ways, made me the person I am today. It has touched all aspects of my life by providing me with opportunities I probably would have never experienced had UT not become my “home.”
I am sure all graduates and former students of most institutions of higher education feel a certain allegiance to their alma maters for the impact made on their lives, but I truly believe UT is different. Just as each of our campuses is distinctive and provides unique experiences–whether to students or employees–UT is more than just a place to learn for a few years or even to work for a career. There is a true sense of family on all our campuses—people caring for and mentoring and nurturing our talented young people—and challenging and encouraging those of us who work for UT to be true servant leaders for the good of all Tennesseans.
I understand all who have been educated or worked here must feel different degrees of that impact on their lives, but for me, the impact has been immeasurable and limitless. For a guy from West Tennessee coming from a small, rural high school, UT was immense and overwhelming at first. But very quickly, friendships developed and life changed as I took responsibility for my own deeds and actions without the prior parental oversight, and I knew I had found the place where I would both grow and change.
I was so blessed that two UT giants and their families saw some potential in me and shared their values, guidance and caring spirit with me. Dr. Andy Holt and Dr. Joe Johnson (and, of course, Martha Holt and Pat Johnson) became my mentors and my rocks. What student or young employee could have found better role models?
Each of us on our UT journey has made lasting friendships. Many found spouses or life partners. Most have gone on to use their talents honed here in varied careers and professions, and all made an impact themselves in their families and communities.
But UT gave us that base.
UT gave us a sense of both self and community. UT gave us chances to grow— and, yes, even to make mistakes. But, for me, it gave me a sense of accomplishment, of value, of pride in something where I could do my part and share my life. It gave me the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the most interesting, creative and dedicated volunteers and university staff imaginable.
I admit it’s tough to think about breaking that continuous, 50-year bond with UT as student, then employee. Many have asked if I ever thought I would have been happier anywhere else. I know in my heart I can’t imagine any life experience for me, personally, being any more rewarding than my work at UT. I knew almost immediately arriving in Knoxville I had found home. The relationship changes, but I will continue to support my university—as Dr. Holt would say—by bragging on it at every turn and then putting my money where my mouth is.
Thanks to so many of you for helping make my life experience here so meaningful. You truly are my family.
Lofton Stuart graduated from UT Knoxville in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, and he was a designated a Torchbearer. He has been an employee of the university since that time, having served as executive assistant to two UT presidents and in various leadership positions within UT Development and Alumni Affairs. Stuart is retiring from the university, effective Jan. 31, 2016.