Chancellor Roger Brown told a large crowd gathered for UTC’s Convocation 2012 he feels fortunate that more students and their families than ever continue to see the value in a UTC education.

Warren St. John

“Our students graduate with an average student loan debt of just over 13 thousand dollars, below the state and national averages and the lowest in the University of Tennessee system. In fact, UTC remains such a good educational investment, that U.S. News and World Report listed our campus among the Best University Values in the South in its most recent rankings—they just came out yesterday [September 12], so this is hot off the presses,” Brown said.

This year’s convocation address will be the last for Chancellor Brown at UTC.  He will retire on September 30, 2012.

Interim Provost Mary Tanner also spoke at convocation.  Dr. Sara Jorgensen, Assistant Professor, African and World History and chair of the First Year Reading Experience (FYRE) committee, introduced the guest speaker, author Warren St. John.

St. John began with an apology to students who attended convocation.  His book, Outcasts United, was selected as this year’s FYRE book.  St. John said if he had known when he was writing Outcasts United it would be put in the hands of recent high school graduates, he would have made it a lot shorter.

Dr. Roger Brown

Outcasts United is the true story of Clarkston, Georgia, where agencies resettled many refugees in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The Fugees soccer team in Clarkston brought together young men from many of the world’s hotspots.  Their home countries included Congo, Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

St. John explained the difficulties for the young refugees as they tried to hold onto their own culture while learning how to live in the United States.   He tied that feeling of uncertainty to the life of a freshman.  Born in the South, St. John talked about feeling intimidated as a freshman at Columbia University in New York City.

He explained just as the young men on the Fugees soccer team at first sought friends on the team who most resembled themselves, St. John befriended someone at Columbia who seemed more like him.  He realized it was because everyone was “scared out of their wits” as they tried to make sense of their new surroundings.

“The human impulse is to pull back and hide, to rush to the familiar,” he said.

In Clarkston, it took a variety of personalities to create change, St. John explained.  Someone had to “step out of their comfort zone.”

He also identified the Fugees coach, Luma Mufleh, as one person who “made it all happen—a bulldozer.”

Mufleh showed the Fugees her commitment to them and their families and her willingness to work with authority figures to effect change.

“People want to be led!” St. John said.

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