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Celebrate Pellissippi State’s alumni award winners April 19

Headshot of Kelly Wright
Kelly Elizabeth Wright, Class of 2012, is Pellissippi State’s Distinguished Alumni Award winner for 2023.

Pellissippi State Community College will celebrate two of its outstanding alumni at the Pellissippi Strong Luncheon next week. 

The event, presented by FirstBank and hosted by Tearsa Smith of WATE-TV, will be held 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, at the Hilton Knoxville Airport, 2001 Alcoa Highway, Alcoa. Individual tickets are $50 and include lunch. You can purchase tickets or select levels of sponsorship here. All proceeds benefit the Pellissippi State Foundation’s Greatest Need Fund.   

In addition to a keynote by Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash, the Pellissippi Strong Luncheon will feature the awarding of the college’s two highest alumni awards. The Distinguished Alumni Award, announced by FirstBank, highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of significant professional achievement and service to the community, while the Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award, sponsored by Clayton, highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community.   

The 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Kelly Elizabeth Wright, Class of 2012. Wright graduated with her General Associate of Science Degree and is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Language Sciences at  Virginia Polytechnic University, where she studies perception and is a scholar of institutionalized oppression. Wright’s research is designed to address specific policy issues by connecting with local communities, identifying the issues of institutionalized oppression they struggle with, and designing experiments to help build more informed policies to better serve them. 

“Kelly has stayed connected to Pellissippi State through the relationships she built while here, and she has referred several students to Pellissippi State since then,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for the Pellissippi State Foundation. “Kelly has attended three other schools and received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, but considers Pellissippi State to be her alma mater forever and always.” 

Headshot of Darris Upton
Darris Upton, Class of 2015, has been named Pellissippi State’s Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award winner for 2023.

The 2023 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award will be presented to Darris Upton, Class of 2015. Upton graduated with his General Associate of Science degree and went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. He now serves as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programs Manager for UCOR, which safely deactivates and demolishes former nuclear facilities. Upton has returned to Pellissippi State on numerous occasions to share his successes and struggles as an adult student, has spoken at Commencement ceremonies and has served on the Pellissippi State Foundation Board of Trustees since 2020.  

“Darris is a model for excellence in alumni service for Pellissippi State,” Sink said. “His leadership as vice chair for our Board for 2023-2024 will advance the college and elevate our success for years to come.” 

For more information about the Pellissippi Strong Luncheon, including sponsorship opportunities, visit