Keny receives UT's highest student honor

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

By John I. Carney

Staff Writer

Lewisburg's Kelsey Keny was a little bit intimidated when, in the middle of her freshman year, she decided to transfer from Belmont University to the much larger University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

How would she do on a big campus?

Apparently, she made it just fine -- the Student Government Association president was one of nine UTK students honored last week as a Torchbearer, the school's highest student honor. The award, presented during the Chancellor's Honors Banquet, is based on academic achievement and commitment to others.

"You can make a home, even in a big place, and find a way to make it small," said Keny, a senior majoring in journalism and electronic media.

Keny, the daughter of Mike and Cheryl Keny, has made herself right at home at UTK -- involved not only with SGA but also the UT Singers, the Student Alumni Associates and Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

In her academic field, she worked as a reporter and producer for the Volunteer Channel, the university's TV station.

During the honors banquet, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek presented the 2015 Torchbearers with medals and they all participated in the ceremonial "passing of the torch." The award refers to the iconic torchbearer statue on the UT campus.

Keny said the award "still hasn't fully sunk in," and that the other eight recipients were "some of the most inspirational student leaders" she'd encountered at UT. She was moved to hear that a teacher had nominated her for the award, and much more so to receive it. She learned of the award several weeks before the banquet.

What makes the award special, she said, is not the medal itself but what it represents: "An amazing, amazing 3 1/2 years."

She also worked as a reporting intern for the Marshall County Tribune in summer 2013 and also as a Knoxville News-Sentinel intern.

Keny originally chose Belmont because, coming from a small-town background, she assumed she'd be more comfortable on a smaller campus. She has nothing but praise for Belmont.

"I just had the feeling that something was missing," she said.

So she followed her older brother John, now a law student, to Knoxville.

This year, as SGA president, she worked with an outreach to promote civility on campus, inspired by a few incidents of hate speech.

"It was a message I really believed in sharing," she said.

She tried to make SGA something students could relate to and to make personal connections with her constituents in the student body.

"It's been a challenging, exciting, curveball-throwing year," she said.

Keny doesn't have a job lined up. She'd like something that involves creative writing and radio or video production, something that will allow her to apply the storytelling skills developed in her studies.

The full list of faculty, staff and student awards is available online at honorsbanquet.utk.edu/2015-winners/.