Current UT System President Randy Boyd owns the Tennessee Smokies, founded tnAchieves and a number of other businesses. Most importantly to us, he’s a KCS Legacy.
Hall Pass sat down with Boyd to discuss his time in KCS schools, learn about his life since he graduated, and ask for advice he’s share with current KCS students.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.
Where did you go to school?
I started off at Anderson Elementary School and stayed for first, second, and third grade. Then in fourth grade, I moved to New Hopewell Elementary and was there through seventh grade. From there, I went to Doyle Middle School. I was in the first graduating class from Doyle Middle School, this new open classroom environment. From there, I went to Doyle High School, now South-Doyle, and graduated in 1976.
Did you ever have a teacher who made an impact on your life?
I had so many teachers, and I feel like it is my obligation to give back to Knox County Schools because of how much it gave to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the teachers that I had.
I’ll say Mrs. Bragg in third grade loved me, took very good care of me, and paid a lot of attention to me. Mrs. Brabson in sixth grade believed in me a lot and gave me a lot of support and encouragement. I had a great experience with her. In high school, Mrs. Jones, my algebra teacher, was always somebody who would go the extra mile for me and make sure that I got the extra tutoring support that I needed. I would have a fit if I made a B, and she would console me and make sure that I understood that it wasn’t the end of the world. I set high expectations for myself, but she always helped moderate those a little bit. Mr. Rector, my English teacher in high school, helped me in so many ways. At one time, I thought I was going to be a writer. He helped me with my composition and gave me redos on occasion when he knew I didn’t do my best work. In that process, I also discovered that my writing skills weren’t good enough to be a really successful writer, so I decided to pursue something else. Then maybe I’ll finish with Mr. Kennedy, who was my political science and geography teacher in high school. He helped sponsor us when we decided to create something called the Political Involvement Group, or PIG. We were an active little group trying to do research on how to make education better, and we sometimes broke a few rules, and he was always there to defend and support us.
That’s just a few that come to the top of my mind. I could think about so many others, but I had so many great teachers who made such a positive difference in my life.
So, working to improve education isn’t really a new venture for you. You’ve been doing it since high school.
I was a Boy Scout, and in Boy Scouts, we always were taught to leave the world a better place than we found it. That’s been kind of embedded in me for a long time, and I’ve tried to teach that to other Scouts that I was the Scout Master for later. But as I’ve thought about it, trying to leave the world a better place, I feel like education is the inflection point of everything. If you really want to make a difference, make a difference in education. That’s where you can have the most profound impact.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in school?
It would have been my last year of high school. I graduated high school in three years, so my last year of high school was my junior year. We didn’t have a great football team, but we did play Oak Ridge, who was at the time number one in the state. We played them at Oak Ridge, an away game, and beat them in a last-second field goal. Our field goal kicker, I think it was the only field goal he ever completed, kicked the winning field goal, and that was a pretty exciting time. I think we finished 3-7 that year, so we weren’t that great, but to beat the number one team in the last second was pretty thrilling.
Did you play any other sports in high school?
I actually lettered in five sports. I used to say that I was mediocre at more sports than most people knew how to play. I wasn’t great at anything. In football, I was a defensive back. When the coach would give me a chance, I wanted to play split end. I also returned kickoffs and punts. I enjoyed it. I wish I had listened to the coach and run up the field rather than trying to dodge and get a touchdown on every touch.
What is the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?
The first five years of starting my third company, which was Radio Systems. Just getting that off the ground. I was probably sleeping three hours a night trying to manage cash flow and all the challenges that come with the startup. It was a five-year marathon. It was a struggle, but we were able to overcome the challenges and be successful.
What advice would you give to the students at your alma mater?
First and foremost, go to college. You absolutely need to get something beyond a high school diploma if you’re going to be successful. Now, that could be a technical college like TCAT or a community college, which are both free of tuition and fees for all Tennesseans; and, if your household income is less than $75,000, which is true for two-thirds of the state, you can go to any UT campus free of tuition and fees. You will not graduate with a lot of debt. That’s a myth. 50% of the students that go to UT will graduate with zero debt, so it’s affordable. With the new UT Promise and the Tennessee Promise, it’s even more affordable. If you get a four-year college degree, you’re going to make $1.5 million more in your lifetime. If you go to a community college and get an associate’s degree, you’ll make $400,000 more in your lifetime. That’s why going to college would be the first thing.Then outside of school, I would just say persist. Everybody’s going to have a struggle. I’ve never met anybody that was successful and didn’t have some obstacles. The difference between the people who are successful and the people who aren’t is that people who are successful overcame those obstacles and persisted. When I think about the keys to success, there are so many different attributes one could have, but the most important thing—and I think the most essential thing—is persistence. You’re going to have obstacles. Just persist.