Two Pennies and a Pledge

By Jackie Wise

Between his sophomore and junior year, Mike Littlejohn (Knoxville ’73) lived paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet through a work-study program. But when a paycheck delay caused the ends not to meet, Littlejohn found himself with two pennies to live on for two weeks.

Mike Littlejohn
Mike Littlejohn

While he found help from friends during that time, Littlejohn also found inspiration that he would draw upon as an alumnus.

“I made a pledge to myself as a student that, if I ever got a chance to help a college student that might have financial difficulties like I experienced, that I wanted to do it,” he says.

He has done just that through the Mike Littlejohn Scholarship Endowment. Since 2000, this endowment has helped 74 students in the Haslam College of Business fulfill their dreams of an education.

Littlejohn served as a senator in student government representing Melrose and Hess halls and was the vice president of the African American Student Liberation Force. Coming from Memphis, he enjoyed meeting people from different parts of the state and different countries.

Mike Littlejohn Scholarship recipients (from left) Dadrien Barnes, Quinton Thompson, and Shelitha Ferraro with Mike Littlejohn

“I found the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) just to be an exciting and vibrant campus, full of different people,” he says as he reflects back on his time as a student.

His involvement as an alumnus started with a personal visit with a UT employee while he was living in Pittsburgh. From there he began engaging with the local alumni chapter
and has remained involved as he continues to try to give back to the university.

“It’s one of those things that I have recognized, that my success in business, in terms of my career, a lot of that success can be attributed obviously to the way I was raised, having great parents, but also the fact that I have a degree from the University of Tennessee,” he says.

His work with the alumni chapter in Pittsburgh allowed him to connect with more alumni than he could have imagined and also gave him the opportunity to help recruit students to the university through events at local high schools. From there, his involvement moved to the UT Alumni Association Board of Governors, a systemwide board working to engage alumni from all UT campuses.

Jimmy Cheek and Mike Littlejohn shake hands as Littlejohn accepts an award
Former Chancellor Jimmy Cheek presents the 2015 UT Knoxville Alumni Service Award to Mike Littlejohn.

Littlejohn continued to serve on the UT Development Council while remaining active with local events. He currently serves as immediate past chair of the UT Foundation Board of Directors and served as chair of that board during the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. In addition, he was a commencement speaker for the UT Knoxville Haslam College of Business in 2011 and in 2015 received the UT Knoxville Alumni Service award.

Mike and Karl Littlejohn in a Neyland Stadium sky box
Mike Littlejohn and his son Karl Littlejohn (Knoxville ’02) attend a UT Knoxville football game.

In the immediate years following his graduation, Littlejohn remained engaged with the university through friendships and football, but as time passed, his passion for helping students reignited. He has challenged others to get involved and led through example since that personal visit back in Pittsburgh in the late 1980s.

Now he has a challenge for other graduates.

“I would challenge graduates of the University of Tennessee to think back to those days and think about things that they might be passionate about,” he says. “Think about what they can do that would enrich the lives of current students and future students of the University of Tennessee.”