Pellissippi State honors veteran alumnus with Chancellor’s Commendation

Pellissippi State alumnus Darris Upton, left, receives the Chancellor's Commendation for Military Veterans from President L. Anthony Wise Jr. at a ceremony Nov. 11, 2021
Pellissippi State alumnus Darris Upton, left, receives the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans from President L. Anthony Wise Jr. at a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday.

Darris Upton, Diversity Development Manager for Knox County Government, was honored Thursday for his military service by his alma mater, Pellissippi State Community College. 

President L. Anthony Wise Jr. presented Upton, Class of 2015, with the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans at a ceremony on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus. Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings established the commendation last year to honor the service, bravery and sacrifices of veterans in campus communities. Veterans were nominated by their college presidents. 

“These 37 men and women represent the spirit and values of our colleges – student success, academic excellence, courage in adversity, and service to campus and community – and the highest ideals of military service,” Tydings said. “Our college communities are strengthened by the presence, experience and perspective of veterans and active-duty military personnel – as students, faculty, staff and alumni. They are an important part of the great diversity of people and backgrounds on our campuses.” 

Upton is a decorated veteran of the U.S. Navy. During his 12 years of military service, he received the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal twice, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy “E” Ribbon twice, the Navy Good Conduct Medal three times, the National Defense Service Medal twice, the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. 

Upon returning home to Knoxville, Upton earned his general Associate of Science degree from Pellissippi State in 2015, followed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. 

“As an alumnus of Pellissippi State, he has returned to campus on numerous occasions to share his successes and struggles as an adult student and to inspire those who follow him to commit to educating themselves and then to helping others along the way,” Wise said. 

Darris Upton shows the back side of the challenge coin he received Thursday
Darris Upton shows one side of the specially designed Challenge Coin he received Thursday as Pellissippi State’s recipient of the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans. Challenge coins are a tradition in all branches of the military, signifying special achievement, excellence, hard work, unit pride, respect and esprit de corps.

As Diversity Development Manager for Knox County, Upton strives to help local government achieve more inclusive operations in purchasing and personnel, building a work environment that welcomes all. He also is helping build better relationships between underrepresented communities and the Knox County Mayor’s office, striving for solutions and strategies to address challenges such as workforce transportation, disparities in technology access, and urban and rural poverty. 

“I was in my 40s when I started Pellissippi State, so it had been a while since I had been in school, and I gained a lot of confidence, knowing that I could get through the coursework and requirements as a college student,” said Upton, who was invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at Thursday’s ceremony and was completely surprised to receive the Chancellor’s Commendation. “By the time I left for UT, I felt ready. 

“Pellissippi State also has a great Veterans Center, and it was nice to have that space to hang out with guys and ladies who had that shared experience of serving in the military,” added Upton, who serves on the Pellissippi State Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “We had serious and not-so-serious discussions in there, but we were all invested in each other’s success. Dr. Wise and everyone here wants to see you succeed.” 

Pellissippi State is one of 11 Tennessee community colleges that has earned VETS Campus certification established in 2014 by the state legislature. To earn VETS Campus certification, an institution must prioritize outreach to veterans and successfully deliver services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education. 

For more information on how Pellissippi State can help veterans get started on a path to higher education, visit