Peyton’s my only connection to the University of Tennessee: my time on Gatorade and the joy of working with this underrated comedian who also happened to be pretty good at throwing a football.
And then this story happened…
It was “college colors” day at his Florida elementary school, and a fourth grade University of Tennessee fan didn’t have anything to wear. So he made his own, drawing “U.T.” on a piece of paper and stapling it to an orange t-shirt (I already love this kid and suspect he might someday make artisanal pocket squares in Brooklyn).
As can happen with attempts at creativity, his earnest design failed to impress the local cool kids who mocked his shirt over the lunch hour. This kind of cruel behavior always happens during lunch, doesn’t it? The teasing really upset him, which inspired his teacher Laura Snyder to share his tale on Facebook.
The universal nature of the boy’s story made Laura’s post go viral. And soon, some very astute, deeply human people at the University of Tennessee took note.
First, UT Interim President Randy Boyd sent the young man a care package from the student bookstore, insuring he would have plenty of Volunteer merchandise, both for himself and even some of those meanies who derided his homemade efforts.
Then the story really took off. News outlets across the country picked up the narrative. And having the right kind of reactive, social media savvy, the University in turn:
- Created t-shirts with the young man’s design, selling them online and donating the profits to anti-bullying organizations. This went super-viral.
- Offered the fourth grader a full ride scholarship to their university class of 2032, quieting the online yahoos criticizing them for taking advantage of the story.
- Dressed their 300+ “Pride of the Southland” marching band in the boy’s t-shirt during their game vs. UT Chattanooga.
We’re a painfully divided country these days, rife with finger pointing and name calling (thanks Russian troll army!). And yet as Americans, we are drawn to the well-meaning underdog. We will stand up for the unfairly criticized fourth grader. There are no sides, no partisanship in our support of a kid who was treated unfairly.
And that gives me hope for a better future ahead. At least when it comes to the University of Tennessee Class of 2032. You go anonymous kid, good on you.