The Torchbearer award, which is presented each year to a highly select group of seniors who distinguish themselves in academic achievement and outstanding commitment to others, is the highest student honor conferred by the University of Tennessee. One of the 2019 recipients of this award was Maddie Stephens, a Chancellor’s Honors student majoring in English and minoring in leadership studies. Maddie also held one of the English department’s top undergraduate honors, a Charles and Frances Mangam Merit Scholarship.
Maddie’s many activities as a student demonstrated her belief that students are not consumers or passive recipients of learning but active stewards of the core values and traditions that UT upholds. Both in student government and through many other volunteer activities, Maddie made it a priority to welcome new students to our campus—whether as a Welcome Week leader or as the creator of a “Guide to Torchbearer Tuesdays” – to help students link their own experiences on campus to the Volunteer Creed. She also played an important role in sustainability and campus recycling efforts, including Earth Day and Recycle Mania events.
Studying English helped Maddie to explore and develop her passions.
“I’m passionate about social justice, race relations in America, and feminism,” said Maddie. “I found classes in my major that touched on those topics through literature. There’s always a way to personalize your academic path, and I think English gives you the best opportunity to do that.”
Whether it was studying American literary naturalism with Professor Mary Papke or writing her senior thesis on the tragic mulatto figure with Professor Lisi Schoenbach, she felt nurtured and challenged to realize her goals.
“There’s an understood commitment across the faculty to support the creative individuality and intuition of each student.”
Maddie accepted a position as a public relations specialist for the UT Office of Communications and Marketing after graduating in May 2019. She is pursuing a career as a student life specialist in higher education. She looks forward to applying the critical skills she learned as an English major to the complex issues of student life and academic institutions. The writing skills she developed will also serve her in good stead.
“In a world where communication happens constantly and rapidly, strong writing and editing skills are a huge professional asset for any career.”