After hearing the legendary Dolly Parton speak at a University of Tennessee graduation ceremony, where Parton was given an honorary doctorate degree, Dr. Lynn Sacco proposed an idea to the university’s history department; a new course…Dolly’s America!
When asked about the University’s response to Sacco’s proposal, Dr. Ernie Freeburg, Head of UT’s Department of History, shared,
“This History Department was both surprised and delighted to learn that Dr. Sacco was proposing to have students dive deep into the life and times of Dolly Parton. One message we send our students is that history is everywhere, not just in wars and the White House, and that one of the best ways to know something is to study it historically.”
“In the hands of a good historian like Dr. Sacco, a course on Dolly Parton raises so many fundamental questions worth asking in any humanities course—about how place shapes values, our ideas about success, the relationship between art and celebrity.”
Dolly’s America is a course offered to students who are currently in, or who want to participate in, UT’s history honors program. Dr. Sacco’s approach to this course gives students the opportunity to explore Dolly’s Appalachian culture. She utilizes DollyParton.com, a full archive of Dolly’s life and career, as a primary source of information for the coursework.
“Students read first about the world into which Dolly was born and then about how Dolly relied on her East Tennessee identity to shape not just her image, but all of her work. By so doing, she brought East Tennessee culture to the world – and the world to East Tennessee.”
The course also highlights Parton’s business acumen. When asked some of the things her students are surprised to learn about Parton, Dr. Sacco replied,
“Everyone knew Dolly was successful, but they did not know how successful she has been for so long and over so many ventures: songwriting; producing television, theater, and probably more; amusement parks; author; philanthropist; performer.”
She also shared the biggest unexpected outcome of the course,
“I knew that most Tennesseans like Dolly. I didn’t realize how much UTK students LOVE Dolly!”
Dolly’s extraordinary life has now found its way into the world of academics, a new platform where she continues to inspire and be a testament of how sheer determination, hard work and being true to your roots can alter your life and the lives of others.
On May 8, 2009, Dolly was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Tennessee in, Knoxville. She received only the second honorary doctorate ever awarded by the school in Humane and Musical letters.
At the graduation ceremony, Dolly performed a version of the school’s unofficial fight song "Rocky Top" and a version of her own song "Try."
University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said,
"Ms. Parton is uniquely distinguished and qualified to receive the highest honor we as a university can offer to a member of the public... Because of her career not just as a musician and entertainer, but for her role as a cultural ambassador, philanthropist and lifelong advocate for education, it is fitting that she be honored with an honorary degree from the flagship educational institution of her home state.”
Dolly was flattered by the award.
“It is an incredible honor for me to receive this degree from a prestigious university like UT. I’ve been a Volunteer all my life and entertained folks around the world with ‘Rocky Top’... Seriously, education and the arts are very important to me, and this degree is something that makes me and would have made my parents very proud.”
Dolly delivered the commencement speech for the 2009 graduating class at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, infusing it with some of her famous humor.
“Now, I usually try not to give advice. Information, yes, advice, no. But, what has worked for me may not work for you. Well, take for instance what has worked for me. Wigs. Tight clothes, push up bras, and high heel shoes.”
As part of the ceremonies, Dolly sang a version of the university’s unofficial fight song "Rocky Top," and a version of her song "Try." Dolly received an honorary doctorate of humane and musical letters, only the second bestowed in the university’s history.