Beloved UT professor of journalism delivers final lecture ahead of retirement after 37 years

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After 37 years of teaching and mentoring students as the Head of the Department of Broadcasting, the University of Tennessee’s Dr. Sam Swan on Wednesday night delivered his final lecture — or, in his own words, his “Swan Song.”

“I’ve been waiting all my life to use this title,” said Dr. Swan. “Now, ‘Swan Song’ has maybe a different meaning for you than it does for me. It marks the end of something. But I would prefer to say that it’s a transition. A transition from one chapter to another chapter. And so that’s what I think of as what’s happening here at the University of Tennessee this semester. And then as I move on to the next chapter, if I had a subtitle for this presentation it would be ‘Finding My Passions.’ Because over the years, what I have found is that many of the things that I have done have all been passions.”

Dr. Swan painted a picture of a life in which he followed his passions from young adulthood all the way through to retirement. Over the years he’s used his own story of humble beginnings to inspire students to reach for the stars. 

 “Some of you graduates are here, and students here will remember that at the beginning of every first day of class I don’t ask students to say ‘here’ or ‘present,’” said Dr. Swan. “I simply say, ‘Where are you from?’ And the caveat is that if any of you in my class are from a smaller town than I am, I’ll give you an automatic ‘A’. Well, in 37 years, no one has gotten an automatic ‘A.'” 

Dr. Swan hails from a small town in Missouri called Pocahontas with a population of 127. Nevertheless, he said he never once questioned that he would go to college due to the encouragement of his parents. He credits many of his greatest successes over the years to seizing opportunities whenever they arise. 

“I guess you’re hearing a theme here. When opportunity comes, you’ve got to pursue those opportunities,” said Dr. Swan. 

An attitude which he has consistently demonstrated for the dozens of students who were fortunate enough to attend one of his courses, or simply seek his wisdom. 

“I’ve been able to combine all my passions. That was my goal in order to have what I think is a great career so far. But the best part for me, looking back over 37 years, has been the students working with students, helping students find jobs counseling students, giving them the confidence to pursue their dreams, and then seeing them succeed. That’s the best part,” said Dr. Swan. “What we do in journalism is very, very important. To my students who are here and former students: I hope you keep doing it as long as you can because our country needs you. It needs journalists.”

But Dr. Swan’s passions didn’t stop at the borders of the United States of America. He championed the study abroad program for Journalism and Electronic Media students and in 2006 was named Director of Global Programs and Outreach for the College of Communication and Information.

Dr. Swan developed a global studies program in which UT students spend a semester in Sydney, Australia. He also led study abroad trips to Prague, Croatia, and Jordan and established an exchange program with three universities in Serbia. In addition, Dr. Swan has been recognized globally as a media trainer and has visited 50 countries around the globe while pursuing his passion to share the foundations of journalistic excellence. All this because he ultimately wanted to show his students they are capable of reaching heights they may not have believed were possible. 

“I wanted them to see that they can do what they do anywhere,” said Dr. Swan. “You’re not restricted to Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s wonderful if you want to stay in Knoxville. But if you want to work in the media capital of the world, you can.”

Retirement doesn’t mean Dr. Swan’s career is coming to an end. He intends to continue pursuing his passion for radio with the release of a new podcast called “Now We Have A Story,” and he intends to publish a book titled “Media Training and Transition Countries: A Media Trainer’s Perspective,” which may be released as soon as April 2022. 

“But as you might expect, like other retirees I’m going to spend some time with family sitting around Leslie, [my daughter’s] pool,” said Dr. Swan. “Maybe having a pitcher of margaritas and spending some time with my beautiful talented granddaughter, Sydney Swan Podrasky, the center of the universe by the way.”

Dr. Swan is expected to finish out the Fall 2021 semester and retire at the end of the year.

Author’s note 

Although as a journalist, I generally focus on keeping my opinions and my work separate so that I can deliver objective reports, I believe in this case it’s appropriate to express my gratefulness for the opportunities that have brought me to this point. 

As one of his former students, I can personally attest to the massively positive impact Dr. Swan has provided to dozens like me throughout the years. As I struggled to find my way forward during my undergraduate career at The University of Tennessee’s College of Journalism and Electronic Media, I will never forget his words of encouragement. The simple act of believing in me gave me the courage to continue forging ahead in spite of whatever obstacles I faced. 

To this very day, nearly ten years since I arrived at UT, his continued support has helped me find the courage to continue pursuing a higher education and his words of wisdom continue to guide me toward success. Even years after graduating from UT, Dr. Swan remembered our conversations and has been kind enough to continue offering his guidance. Anyone who meets him can clearly see that his passion for learning, teaching and storytelling is equally as infectious as his optimism. 

I’m thankful to have been fortunate enough to learn from one of the greats, and I wish him all the happiness the world has to offer as he enters this new chapter.