Traditions & History

225+ years of Volunteers

Checkerboard games and Torch nights, painting the Rock, and wearing orange on Fridays—these are the moments that bind us together. Our Volunteer traditions run deep. They inspire us to continue creating better futures. To push the boundaries of research and innovation. To serve communities, near and far. 

students paint the rock bright orange with colorful handprints

We are the Tennessee Volunteers.
We light the way for others.

The torchbearer statue stands in the middle of Circle Park where students walk by daily


Bearing the torch

At the foot of the iconic Torchbearer statue, you’ll find a plaque inscribed with the Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” It is a creed that inspires every Volunteer to lead, serve, and light the way. Every year, select seniors are honored as Torchbearers, an award recognizing them for academic achievement and outstanding commitment to others.

students celebrate Torch Night while Smokey runs through adding excitement

Torch Night

Since 1925, the Torch Night ceremony has declared each new class official members of the UT student body. Holding symbolic torches, students commit to embody the Volunteer spirit of selfless leadership.

Just as they began their academic journey, so too do graduating seniors hold symbolic torches as they say goodbye. At Torch Night: A Farewell to Thee, students pledge their loyalty to UT and pass their torches to upcoming seniors, inspiring them to continue lighting the way.

an excited student paints the rock using a sponge brush while her other hand is covered in magenta paint on a beautiful day

Painting The Rock

In 1980, the Rock became a campus communications hub and palette for hellos and goodbyes, birthday wishes, event announcements, sports hype, marriage proposals, and political endorsements.

a group of students walk through the middle of campus proudly wearing orange

Big Orange Friday

Every Friday, near and far, members of the Volunteer family are encouraged to represent UT by wearing orange. In 1889, UT Athletic Association President Charles Moore chose the school’s orange and white colors for the first field day. The colors were later endorsed by the student body in 1892.

Fans Checker Games

In 2014, Vol fans Spencer Barnett, Tim McLeod, and Jonathan Briehl helped create a one-game-each-season tradition when fans wear orange or white by section in Neyland Stadium, creating a checker pattern. Vol fans also checker basketball games at Thompson-Boling Arena.

University of Tennessee Neyland Stadium at full capacity during a checker game
Smokey watches a football game at Neyland Stadium wearing his checkerboard jacket


Smokey, our beloved bluetick coonhound mascot, has a tradition of his own! At every home football game, Smokey leads the Vols through a T formed by the Pride of the Southland Band onto the field. And watch for him to run the sidelines with every Vol touchdown!

historical photo of East Tennessee College on the Hill


1794: UT is founded in Knoxville as Blount College

1807: Blount College becomes East Tennessee College

1826: East Tennessee College moves to the Hill

1840: The college is renamed East Tennessee University

1862–65: University activity is suspended during the Civil War

1869: The university is designated one of Tennessee’s land-grant institutions

1879: East Tennessee University is renamed the University of Tennessee

1902: UT football team is first called Volunteers

1921: Ayres Hall is completed

1968: The UT System is created

1994: UT celebrates its 200th anniversary

2013: The tradition known as Big Orange Friday begins

2019: UT celebrates its 225th anniversary