Written by Matt Scott
My college career has been a period of many firsts. I experienced my first bowl game, my first professional conference, my first trip to Cookout, and, unfortunately, my first all-nighter in the Baker Center. More importantly, however, UT is the place where I first made service a focal point of my life. Though I volunteered and went on mission trips in high school, it wasn’t until my induction into the Chancellor’s Honors Program that I began to reflect critically on service.
As I sat through the induction ceremony daydreaming about my new college life, my ears perked up at one question: “Why are you here?”
This seemed to be a ridiculous question. Obviously, I was here to get a degree and get into medical school. Why else would I be here? I wish I could tell you I realized the importance of this question that evening, or even that year. Instead, I devoted myself to my studies at the expense of my commitment to service. I was only here to pursue my own successes, after all. Soon enough, summer break arrived and I was intent on continuing this pursuit. I began planning the next year of school and decided to become a peer mentor for other CHP students.
Mentoring seemed like a great low-commitment way to diversify my resume and meet new people in the process. That summer, I was assigned a list of incoming students to mentor. I introduced myself and explained that I would be a point of contact for them while they were at Tennessee. I went into the experience determined to teach my mentees a thing or two about college life. Instead, they taught me about myself. I realized with every question, late-night text, and coffee date that this was what I was passionate about. They thought they were an inconvenience; I knew they were my ticket to a bigger world, one where I embraced that I was best when serving others.
Over the next year and a half, I nurtured this realization. I helped lead a construction-based service trip into the heart of rural West Virginia with my church. There, we re-roofed the home of a family who had lost everything when their mother’s health took a turn for the worse. I began volunteering with the Honors Program and Alpha Epsilon Delta (UT’s largest pre-health society), doing everything from collecting cans of food to cleaning out yards. I even began a regular volunteer shift at Fort Sanders Medical Center, where I still make follow-up calls to discharged patients and go to patient rooms to check on their comfort.
However, I soon found myself again considering the question I had heard nearly two years before. Why was I here? I had made an impact on many people, but I had yet to go all in, to really break the barrier between student and servant.
While driving home from a fall break trip, I looked at my best friend and said that we should do something huge for our community in Knoxville.
With the help of an amazing team at Global Service Projects, we designed the Run and Walk for Mental Health Awareness, a 5K that would not only raise awareness about mental health but also raise funds for the Helen Ross McNabb Center, a local organization that provides behavioral and mental health services to the underinsured. The event was a massive success and, true to their mission to help me realize my purpose, the Chancellor’s Honors Program covered nearly one-third of our event budget.
As I begin my final year on Rocky Top I am president of Alpha Epsilon Delta, where I am refocusing the goals of our organization to emphasize service. As director of public relations for Global Service Projects, I am heading a fundraising campaign for the Helen Ross McNabb Center’s new domestic violence shelter and beginning to recruit sponsors for the Second Annual Run and Walk for Mental Health Awareness. Most recently, I have been selected to co-lead the Honors and Scholars Programs’ first Alternative Spring Break trip—check back in the spring newsletter for an update on that experience!
Over the last three years, I have gone from a self-serving student to a self-actualized servant who aims to make service a central tenet of my life.
Ultimately, I know that this would have never been possible without the support and encouragement of the Chancellor’s Honors Program. Looking back on my inattentive first-year self, I smile. I will always remember the one question that made it through my daydreaming and how it has changed my life—and hopefully the lives of many others—for the better.