Every year there is a commencement speaker who gives the graduating class a final spark of inspiration as they start the rest of their lives. This year, that speaker is Jack Neely. Neely first started his college journey at Millsaps College in Jacksonville, MI.
“It was similar to Maryville in some ways, not nearly as old, but close to the same size, both in student body and acreage, a patch of green in a semi-urban setting. We used to play Maryville in football, and I remember driving up here late one Friday night with some friends to see a game,” said Neely.
He then finished up his degree at the University of Tennessee with a major in American history, with a concentration in foreign policy, but Neely said, “since then, most of what I’ve learned about local history has been on the job. Being a journalist is like being a constant student.”This great opportunity does not happen without some consideration about the person speaking.
“I can’t speak for those who chose me, but they mentioned that my work on ‘The Founding Story’ had something to do with this honor. Several years ago, I was asked to write a narrative history of Maryville College,” Neely said.
“By that time I had a couple of books out and had a bit of a reputation as a local historian. I worked on the Maryville project for several months I think, spent a lot of time walking around town, looking at buildings and graveyards, lunching at the dining hall, and reading all the books on the subject, said Neely.
“I knew a little about MC but was surprised by several aspects of its extraordinary story. After some editing, it was published as “The Founding Story,” in a handsome 24-page booklet, and later put on the college’s website.” Neely is a journalist whose day-to-day life can be very interesting sometimes. He has many other accomplishments as a journalist.
“I’ve also written about Maryville some as a journalist. I’ve never written for a sports desk, covering football or basketball games, so when I was working for Knoxville’s ‘Metro Pulse,’ I was pretty tickled to win a regional Best Sportswriter award some years ago for a big in-depth feature about Kin Takahashi,” said Neely.
“It really is an astonishing story, unlike any other I know of. And I’ve spoken at MC several times in the past, everything from class lectures about journalism to the subject of “Appalachia,” and whether it really exists as a coherent culture. Back in the ‘90s, I spoke to a Maryville alumni banquet on the subject of Blount County in literature,” said Neely.
When asked about what he hoped the graduating class will take from this speech Neely said, “I could never guess how a speech will affect people. If it’s inspiring, it’s because the story of Maryville College is inspiring.” Neely is a well-known journalist and historian in the Knoxville and surrounding areas.
“I’m different from most local historians in that I came to it after studying world history. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t talk about local history without talking about both national and global history,” Said Neely. “The world is much smaller than we assume, and was even 200 years ago, and cultural trends travel very fast. All American culture is cosmopolitan, whether we want to accept that fact or not.”
Maryville College faculty, students and guest will hear the message at the Commencement Ceremony. The Maryville College class of 2019, the Bicentennial Class, Commencement ceremony is May 4, 2019 at 3:30pm on Anderson Lawn with relocation in the Clayton Center for the Arts (limited seating) in the case of rain.