This year Lee recognized the courage and dedication of two alumni, Andrew and Tori Smith. Both are natives of Chattanooga, and graduated from Lee with degrees in history in 2009.
The Smiths were chosen for this award because of their experiences in military service, including bravery, sacrifice, and an overwhelming optimism, over the course of the past year.
This spring Andrew, serving with an Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was severely injured in an explosion while engaged in combat.
He and Tori are currently at Walter Reed Medical Center, near Washington D.C., as he completes his rehabilitation and prepares for a transition to civilian life.
Through this difficult time he and Tori have remained committed not only to one another but to their country and to their faith. In the face of great adversity, they have demonstrated a quiet assurance that there is a greater purpose at work in their lives.
“The Smiths personify the sort of student who ‘finds himself or herself’ and becomes the kind of graduate that Lee can be proud of,” shared Lee President Paul Conn, quoting one of the Smiths’ history professors, during Saturday’s ceremony.
“The courage they have shown and their ability to inspire all of us in their own time of difficulty is why they have been chosen as this year’s Distinguished Alumni of the Year.”
Upon graduation Andrew accepted a job as a manager at Target and continued to work there for one year. However, Andrew knew since he was a boy that he wanted to serve his country. He enlisted in the United States Army and on Nov. 10, 2010, boarded a plane for basic training.
After graduation Tori taught history for one year at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy. In 2011 she enrolled in Michigan State Law School and began her path to earning her second degree.
The two began dating after Andrew returned home from basic training and were married Dec. 23, 2011. The following February the United States Army 82nd Airborne unit was deployed to Afghanistan, taking Andrew with it, while Tori continued law school in Michigan.
On March 8, Andrew was on his first patrol mission when fire was opened on his patrol. From the incoming fire, Andrew and his comrades sought shelter in a nearby ditch. While the other members of the patrol missed the hidden improvised explosive device, or IED, Andrew did not.
The explosion claimed both of Andrew’s legs and left him with severe injuries to his abdomen. Since the injury Andrew has undergone numerous surgeries and persevered through hours of physical therapy at Walter Reed, in Bethesda, Md.
Throughout all of these obstacles Tori has stood by his side, from waiting anxiously in a hospital room to cheering him on in therapy sessions. The two currently reside in an apartment on the Walter Reed campus.
When Andrew is released from Walter Reed later this year, the Smiths plan to move back to their hometown of Chattanooga. Andrew is still sure of his desire to serve his country through whatever means possible.
“Although what happened was tragic, we know that God will use it for His glory,” said Tori. “Even through all the hard times. He can use our life as a testimony to His faithfulness and provision.”