Selmer native bears UT Torch
By John Philleo
Selmer native Jenny Bledsoe has been honored with the University of Tennessee Torchbearer award, the highest honor a UT student can receive.
The award was presented to Bledsoe at the 2011 Chancellor’s Honors Banquet April 11 in Knoxville. The banquet is held each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff and friends of the University of Tennessee for their extraordinary achievements.
Bledsoe said she was nervous waiting for the announcement of the eight torchbearer recipients at the end of the banquet, because she had also won an academic achievement award.
She was sitting in the front, but after her name was called and she was approaching the chancellor onstage, all she could think about was not stumbling.
“It was kind of surreal because I was just so focused about getting up there and shaking his hand that I really didn’t get any other sense of it,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s really even sunk in yet … it’s exciting to see how everything has culminated.”
Bledsoe is a Chancellor’s Honors student who has received prefect marks in her majors of religious studies and English literature, as well as her minors in Latin and history.
Her specialty is medieval Christianity and her honors thesis project highlights the life of St. Margaret of Antioch in late medieval England.
This project has led her to conduct field research in England, France, and Italy, and she has presented her research at four scholarly conferences.
Along with all of this, Bledsoe is a campus leader. She served as editor-in-chief for The Daily Beacon and is now the editor-in-chief of Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research.
Bledsoe also served as the lead organizer of the inaugural Honors Research Symposium and is leading a joint faculty-student effort to host a 2011 undergraduate conference in medieval and renaissance studies.
When she was an incoming freshman at UT, she looked up to the torchbearers that year, and proceeded to work hard to try to have the same sort of impact that they did.
“It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do and to achieve these things and work on all these projects and still maintain these high GPAs,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be a leader, but I never thought I’d be in the same situation and receive such an honor, so it’s really humbling to be in this situation.”
Jenny attended Selmer Elementary School and Selmer Middle School and graduated from McNairy Central High School.
She is the daughter of two educators: Hannah Bledsoe, a special education teacher at McNairy Central High School, and Jeff Bledsoe, an Algebra I teacher at South Side High School in Jackson. Her grandparents are Shirley Bledsoe, of Memphis, and the late Wayne Bledsoe; and John Whitaker, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the late Joan Whitaker. The local family are members of Selmer First United Methodist Church.
“My parents have always supported me in everything I’ve wanted to do and encouraged me to put in the work that it takes to do my best,” Jenny said.
Her parents are, of course, thrilled for Jenny and extremely proud of her to have been chosen for this honor.
“It is the culmination of her academic achievement and her service plus passion,” said her father, Jeff, who gives a lot of the credit for Jenny’s upbringing to his wife. “I really think that Hannah being at home with her in those first six years, reading to her from birth, was huge. They both loved it. We also tried to give Jenny every opportunity we could to give her a broad range of experiences.
“Obviously Jenny is very intelligent, but she’s really not a bookworm. She’s a well-rounded person, she is very kind, friendly, and gets along well with people.”
“We just always encouraged her to do her best,” said her mom, Hannah. “Jenny’s inner drive makes for a tremendous work ethic. She is highly organized and has an ability to do multiple projects simultaneously. She has found things that she really enjoys and has tried to focus on the things that she is passionate about.”
Jenny also gives credit to her former teachers, singling out two who had the greatest impact on her: Delise Teague, her former English teacher, and George Souders, her former art teacher.
“She was just really supportive of me in all things,” Jenny said of Teague, who was also her softball coach. Jenny said the first time she ever felt challenged in an English class was in Teague’s class. Bledsoe credited Teague’s influence in her selection of English as a major, and journalism as an additional pursuit.
Bledsoe said that although art was not her subject of choice, Souders encouraged her to broaden her horizons.
“Overall, Mr. Souders just always encouraged me to to achieve my dreams and not to be afraid to go into new environments and new places,” Jenny said of her former art teacher.
Teague had a lot of great things to say about her former student.
“Jenny Bledsoe’s success at the collegiate level comes as no surprise to me.,” Teague said. “When Jenny was in high school, she was an exceptional student, characterized by superior intellect, exemplary motivation, and impeccable character … Jenny maintained a high level of humility and compassion, as evidenced by her record of service and her love for humanity.”
The next step for Jenny is Harvard Divinity School.
“Being accepted to Harvard felt to me like a culmination of all of my academic work throughout the years,” she said. “The Master of Theological Studies program at Harvard is a great fit for my interests because I will be able to take classes in both the Divinity School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
She hopes to work as a professor, teaching students, writing articles and books, and being an advisor for as many student organizations as she can.
She had a few words of encouragement for high school students who are looking to attend college soon.
“I would encourage them to not be afraid to venture away from home and go to a school more than a few hours away,” she said. “To put hard work into whatever path they take ... put in the effort to find those things that they’re interested in.”