• My undergraduate experience at Carson-Newman helped me understand the importance of collaboration, communication and the commitment to all students.
    Derek Voiles / Hamblen County Administrator / 2017 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Enriching the world with ‘Truth, Beauty and Goodness’

Campus News | December 14, 2020

Carson-Newman University graduate Sarah Allnatt, of Morristown, found that perseverance, prayer and family support opened the doors to high achievement.

(Dec. 14, 2020) JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Sarah Allnatt started college thinking she would not be able to make the grades she needed to succeed.

And at first, she didn’t. At first, she was failing. But perseverance, prayer and family support paid off.

On Dec. 11, Sarah graduated from Carson-Newman University with a 4.0 GPA and a job lined up as an interim art teacher at Morristown Hamblen High School East.

She was among 156 students graduating from Carson-Newman this month. The University held its first in-person commencement ceremony of the year and invited May and summer graduates to walk as well.

Nearly 200 students participated in Carson-Newman’s Winter Commencement, held at the Sevierville Convention Center to allow for social distancing. Other COVID-19 precautions included mandatory masks, temperature checks and ticketed access to limit attendance.

Dr. Claude Pressnell Jr., president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, was the guest speaker.

“It was with a lot of joy and pride that we watched our graduates cross that stage,” said University President Charles A. Fowler. “Perhaps this year more than ever, these are students who have overcome tremendous challenges, grown in their faith and persevered to become true servant-leaders. They are ready to take the next steps in pursuit of all that God has called them to be. We are proud of who they are, proud of what they’ve accomplished and proud to have them as a part of our Eagle family.”

In addition to her upcoming job as an art teacher, Sarah is already fulfilling her role as a servant-leader at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, where she teaches Sunday School and helps with just about every children’s service the church offers. She plans to be open with her students about how she struggled at first with school in hopes that it will encourage them to believe in their ability to accomplish great things.

“It’s a great way to connect with students and say that it’s not about being perfect — it’s about doing the best you can and achieving,” she said.

Halfway through her first semester of community college, Sarah was struggling in every course. Her dad, Randy Allnatt, knew what it took to succeed, and he believed in her ability.

“‘We’ve got to change your mindset. Challenge accepted! Let’s make it achievable,’” she recalled him saying. “When you know you’re fully capable of doing it, then do it!”

By the end of the semester, she finished her courses with all A’s. Seeing the neat, straight line of perfect scores was addictive. She became something of an overachiever.

Two years later, after hours of thought, prayer and research, she chose Carson-Newman for her art education degree.

“The experience has been wonderful from start to finish,” Sarah said. “It was 10-times better than my community college experience. I thought it was just going to be super hard to make it at a university. I was really discouraged going in.”

Her first year at C-N saw personal tragedy as well when her father passed away in spring 2019.

“After he died, I thought I’d never be able to achieve that academic success again,” she recalled. “But he told me how to get there. It’s all about my mindset and learning and trying.”

Having her new Carson-Newman family embrace and support her — academically and emotionally — through that time made the difference.

“It’s about the community that was built within the classroom,” she said. “It’s also about having all these different resources available to me. It’s this great support system emailing me and telling me that they care about me out of all these students who are here. I can obviously see that academic success and achievement is at the top of Carson-Newman’s priorities.

After her father died, she had support from counselors, Campus Ministries, Student Success and her professors, she recalled. And all reached out to her again asking how she was coping through the changes COVID-19 brought.

“Carson-Newman’s like a mini-family, just really big,” she said, laughing. “Cold weather was difficult for Dad, so we moved where there is no family around for hours. Being able to have this mini-family and community that is close to me to contact me and have this one-on-one personal relationship with meant a lot to me.”

Sarah originally planned to graduate in May 2021, but after she received a job offer to start in January 2021, she said her professors rallied to help her get all the credit hours she needed to graduate this December. She plans to join the University’s Master of Education program in the spring as a job-embedded student. After researching graduate programs in Florida, Kentucky, New York, Washington and California, she was amazed by the low cost of continuing at Carson-Newman.

Professor Julie Rabun, who chairs Carson-Newman’s Art Department, noted that Sarah likes to give others credit for her success, but it’s been Sarah’s hard work and perseverance that resulted in her accomplishments.

Sarah Allnatt is a shining example of the power of art to enrich a world that desperately needs ‘Beauty, Truth and Goodness,’” Rabun said in reference to the University’s motto. “She also understands the importance of art as a powerful educational tool that gives meaning and voice to children. Her future students will be blessed by her empathy, enthusiasm and caring nature. I believe Sarah’s impact will be far reaching and her light will continue to shine bright and touch everyone around her in everything she does.”

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts-based university affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The University is located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and has over 2,900 students. Carson-Newman offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.