For almost 20 years, UT memorabilia has claimed that Volunteer alumni include two Nobel Laureates, seven Rhodes Scholars, six Pulitzer Prize-winners and astronauts.
Strangely, the Office of the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust lists UT with only six Rhodes Scholars. UT's own Torchbearer magazine site also recognizes six, not seven, Volunteer Rhodes Scholars.
Thanks to senior Haslam Scholar Lindsay Lee, however, those big orange T-shirts and coffee mugs are no longer erroneous – call them prophetic instead.
Lee was announced Sunday as one of 32 American winners of the Rhodes Scholarship, becoming UT's first Rhodes Scholar since Jennifer Santoro Stanley in 1995, and officially, its seventh in history.
After graduating in May with a double major in math and Spanish, she will head to the United Kingdom's Oxford University with her fellow Americans and 52 classmates from around the world.
The scholarship covers full tuition, fees, maintenance and travel expenses, a value estimated at approximately $50,000 each year for two years.
It is internationally considered one of the world's most prestigious scholarships, and after 101 years of existence, Rhodes Scholars alumni have bolstered its reputation. Notable alumni include Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Walter Isaacson, among others.
Lee said she did not think she'd won the scholarship after her 20-minute finalist interview concluded on Saturday in Birmingham, Ala.
When the selection committee announced her as one of the two Scholars from District 7 – which includes the states of Tennessee, Alabama and Florida – she said she had a small moment of utter shock.
It was a moment similar to one of her first experiences as a Haslam Scholar, when Steven Dandaneau, Ph.D. and then-director of the Haslam Program, inspired the class with the biographies of that year's Rhodes Scholarship recipients.
"He laid down the Rhodes bios in front of us and said, 'This is what you're capable of. This is what you should be expecting of yourselves,'" Lee said. "We were so intimidated back then, and it was really from that moment that I started to understand that this was possible."
Fulfilling UT's prophecy of seven Rhodes Scholars was no easy task.
Applicants are judged on criteria outlined in Cecil Rhodes' will, a metric that requires literary and scholastic attainment as well as energy to fully use one's talents and moral force of character.
To prepare for the finalist interview, Lee said she worked closely with the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships.
Assistant Director Nichole Fazio-Veigel and Director Michael Handelsman arranged three mock interviews for Lee to gain experience in the fast-paced interview style used by the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee. Lee also worked with Adam Cureton, a Ph.D. philosophy professor who won the Rhodes in 2003 out of the University of Georgia.
"The whole office, but especially Nichole, was able to break it down and offer so much support..." she said. "It was really hard, but I always felt like I had someone to turn to when I was totally stressed out by the whole thing."
At Oxford, Lee intends to study statistics. She said she knows she wants to do something in public health to advocate for disenfranchised groups, such as people with disabilities.
The career would reflect her accomplishments at UT, which include founding the Campus Disability Advocates and running for SGA President in spring 2013.
Only nine of the 32 American Rhodes Scholars attend public universities, and Lee said she hopes her accomplishment encourages Tennessee lawmakers to invest more into the state's higher education.
"The opportunities are no less here at UT than they are at a Harvard or a Yale," she said. "In fact, I think here you are able to interact with people with much more diverse backgrounds and outlooks than you are at a private school."
Marianela D'Aprile, a fourth year student in architecture and one of Lee's close friends, said she first met the future Rhodes Scholar in 2010 as a fellow finalist for UT's highly-competitive Haslam Scholars Program.
"She was always just talking to people, and everybody seemed to like her right away," D'Aprile said. "She's able to relate to people almost instantaneously."
Both D'Aprile and Lee were selected as Haslam Scholars, and over four years the two have traveled to Japan and Chile together.
Between taking spontaneous trips to Bon Iver concerts and attending four semesters of Haslam scholar classes together, D'Aprile said she has seen Lee prove the world can change for the better.
"Lindsay is somebody who has never let the daunting nature of her goals stop her from trying to achieve them," D'Aprile said. "She's somebody who wants to see change happen."