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September 01, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Medal of Honor project sparked Taylor Hathorn’s passion

Medal of Honor Project(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Medal of Honor national convention comes to Knoxville next week, and the University of Tennessee’s College of Communication and Information is playing a major role in preserving the stories of the living recipients. We previously described the work in this post. Today, we profile one of the students – Taylor Hathorn.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Taylor Hathorn came to the University of Tennessee (UT) as a first-year student looking for something to ignite her passion. It took three years, but she found it in 2013 when her response to a single tweet launched her on a life-inspiring journey.

“This has been the most beneficial year of my college career,” Hathorn says of the past 12 months. “I’m an award-winning journalist at 22 years of age.” And, instead of going to law school, she’s now in Arlington, VA beginning a career that was unimagined a year ago.

It all started with that tweet and an “over-the-top” response from this effervescent and engaging recent graduate of UT’s College of Communication and Information.

Hathorn had some knowledge of the nation’s highest military honor when she responded to Assistant Professor Nick Geidner’s tweet. As noted in a recent post, the College, under Geidner’s leadership, was recruiting a few students to get involved in its innovative “Medal of Honor Project” (MoH) to capture the stories of as many of the 78 living recipients of the award as possible.

Many of these heroes will be in Knoxville September 10-13 for their national convention, and Hathorn will be here as well, not as a student but as the brand new Manager of Outreach and Logistics for the Medal of Honor Foundation. One of her roles will be to moderate a Town Hall featuring recipients from the Afghanistan conflict.

“This is not just a job for me,” she says of the position she started in early August. “It has ignited a passion in me. It is something that will launch my career.”

Hathorn remembers the tweet and the interest that it immediately stimulated in her. No doubt part of the way she responded was influenced by the fact that she had lived in the Middle East, the only American in her high school graduating class at the International School in Abu Dhabi. Certain military-related topics, such as the Holocaust, 9-11, and the Vietnam War, were banned from the curriculum.

The Texas native sent a three and one-half page essay in response to Geidner’s tweet. A few days later, he called to note that he had asked students to limit their responses to 150 words. Yet, it was clear that he had found a star in Hathorn, as he has said on many occasions, and she had found that opportunity to “really make a difference.”

Over the past year, Hathorn and her classmates in the College have been taping extended interviews with the Medal of Honor recipients. The work will continue as they cover the convention.

Along the way, what started out as a project has turned into one student’s personal cause.

“I want to educate my generation,” Hathorn says of her peers. “There’s a big disconnect. They don’t understand the military or the process of receiving the award.”

She says they are making progress.

“Students are starting to see the value (of the award),” Hathorn believes, adding, “It took a while.”

Part of the reason is simply the generational span.

“World War II and Vietnam are so far out of our sight,” she says. “We remember 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Hathorn adds that military service was viewed as an honorable profession before Vietnam, but not so much after the war.

“We grew-up with a skewed image,” she says of her generation. “This (the MoH Project) is going to help students look at it in a different light. They are going to be able to take their blinders off.”

Hathorn credits Geidner with pushing all of the students to “ask tougher questions of the MoH winners . . . to ignite their passions.”

As she became more emotionally involved in the project, Hathorn also became more engaged with both the Medal of Honor Society, composed of the recipients of the award, and the Medal of Honor Foundation, which promotes the Society and the award. She stayed in contact with the new executive team at the latter organization.

Hathorn says it was seven minutes from the deadline to pay her deposit for law school when the job offer from the MoH Foundation arrived.

“My entire life has been to go with the flow,” she explains. “This is synonymous with that.”

Yet, there is clearly something different in this case.

“Few college students have a first job for which they are passionate.” Hathorn says.

In a brand new position with the job description still a work in progress, two goals are very clear to this recent UT graduate.

“I want to start a MoH program at every university around the country and keep UT as the flagship,” Hathorn says. “I (also) want to write a book on my generation’s views on the military.”

And to think that it all started with a tweet that sparked such a passion.

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