Grad Kept Her Head in the Game Despite Personal Woes

Steven Bridges/Bridges Photography

Illness and tragedy sidelined senior Diamond Rayborn for a while, but the 23-year-old Memphis native managed to stay focused on her goal.

Rayborn will graduate on Friday with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a collateral in international business from Haslam College of Business. She’ll participate in the undergraduate commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Next month, Rayborn—who aspires to be the general manager of an NFL team—will begin a marketing internship with the Cleveland Browns.

The oldest of eight children, Rayborn enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 2011. By December, she was feeling out of sorts.

“I had been feeling sick and my face was swollen. Soon after that, I went to the emergency room,” she said. “For seven months I went to different doctors until I was diagnosed with lupus in July 2012.”

Although it slowed her down, “having a chronic illness is something that I will not allow to deter me from my future career aspirations,” she said.

Fast forward to the 2014–15 academic year—what was supposed to be her senior year.

She and her boyfriend, Joshua Larry, went back to Memphis to see their families during the holiday break. When they returned to Knoxville, they discovered that someone had broken into their apartment.

“We were robbed and the apartment was in shambles,” she said.

Just a few days later, feeling violated, Rayborn came down with shingles.

The painful condition forced her to withdraw from classes for the spring 2015 semester, but she stayed in Knoxville with Larry, who had been her best friend all through middle school and high school.

In June, soon after the semester ended, Larry drowned while cliff diving and swimming at Rock Island State Park.

“I had plans of coming back to school, but after he died, I was done,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have anything to live for. I didn’t see the light anymore.”

Rayborn said her family’s love and support, along with counseling, prayer, meditation, and keeping a daily journal, helped her work through the pain.

“I know that I’m going to be a general manager of an NFL team,” she said. “I didn’t want that to go away just because I was in pain, hurt, and angry. I had to dig deep into myself and love myself again. Now everything is coming back together.”

Rayborn resumed her studies at UT in fall 2015. This past summer she spent four weeks studying in Freiburg, Germany.

Despite the troubles she’s faced, Rayborn has laid the groundwork for her career.

She spent four years working in the college’s Office of Undergraduate Programs and volunteering as a Diversity Advancement Program advocate.

Rayborn credits her love of football to her stepfather, Terris Harris Jr., who played for the University of Miami Hurricanes in the early 1990s. She nurtured her love for the game by working with admissions and athletics in recruiting efforts through the Volunteer Team.

In February, she took a handful of resumes and went to the NFL Combine in Indiana to network with team officials.

The effort paid off when the Cleveland Browns offered her the internship.

Rayborn said her fondest memories of UT revolve around the many people who have taken the time to listen and share their own struggles to succeed.

“People can help steer you in the right direction,” she said.

She gives special shoutouts to George Drinnon and Tammi Brown-Small in the college’s Office of Undergraduate Programs; Tyvi Small and Janice Branch-Hall in the college’s Office of Diversity and Community Relations; Nayasha Farrior, her academic advisor; Ronald McFadden, director of the Educational Advancement Program; Tommy Thigpen, UT football linebacker coach; and Tim Woods in financial aid.

“Diamond had to make some tough choices and work through some difficult situations. Her grit and determination have been key to her success,” Drinnon said.

Hall echoed that: “Diamond is an extraordinary young woman. She has experienced hardships that would have taken a toll on anyone but had the strength and resilience to complete her degree. I am inspired by her courage and look forward to seeing great things from her.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (ablakely@utk.edu, 865-974-5034)