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King University Celebrates 2024 Graduates

April 27, 2024

King University Celebrates 2024 Graduates

Whitaker, Payne honored with emeritus status


Nearly 300 students achieving degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels were celebrated today during King University’s 2024 commencement ceremony.

“Attaining a degree requires long-term dedication on the part of students as well as plenty of encouragement from friends and family,” said Matt Roberts, Ed.D., provost of King. “Each year we look forward to this opportunity to rightly applaud the perseverance of our graduates, and also extend our gratefulness to all those who have provided unwavering support on their behalf.”

The commencement address was presented by Warren Payne, an alumnus of King’s class of 1969 and longtime member of the Board of Trustees. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Payne studied business and economics and was a standout on King’s 1967-68 basketball team, scoring more than 1,000 points and recording 120 offensive rebounds, a Tornado Top 10 athletic record that still stands today.

Soon after graduation, Payne started his career as a commercial loan officer with the Bank of Virginia, rapidly advancing into executive roles with First Tennessee Bank in Knoxville. An avid entrepreneur, he started Kenesaw Leasing in 1985, which was sold to National Bank of Commerce in 1996. During a three-year transition period, he worked simultaneously with Kenesaw and National Bank of Commerce as President & CEO, then remained with National Bank of Commerce until it was sold to SunTrust Bank in 2004.

Payne served as interim President & CEO at Baptist Health of East Tennessee from 2005-2006. He started Fountain Equipment Finance in 2006 and served as President & CEO until his retirement in 2023. Currently, he serves in a consulting role with the company.

Payne has served on King University’s Board of Trustees for more than 20 years, including as Chair from 2014 through 2019. He has led numerous initiatives for new academic programming at King and notably helped establish deeper connections with the University of Tennessee, efforts that resulted in the 3+2 dual engineering degree agreement between King and the Tickle College of Engineering.

With his wife and fellow alum Kathy, an alumna of the Class of 1969, Payne selflessly and tirelessly continues to bear the standard of King University in Bristol, Knoxville, and beyond. In recognition of his many years of service to the University, he was recognized with the title of Trustee Emeritus.

Today also marked the final commencement ceremony for President Alexander Whitaker, who took the helm at King in 2016 and will come to the close of his tenure at the end of this academic year. For his many achievements, which include the successful reaffirmation of the University’s accreditation; a complete revamping of the school’s nursing program and renovation of the nursing labs; development of new programs, including exercise science and graduate-level nursing and social work degrees; multiple physical refurbishments of the campus, and; institution of a robust free speech policy, Whitaker was honored with the title of President Emeritus.

“Those in leadership roles at King bear servants’ hearts, and we’re fortunate for their long-term support and advocacy,” Roberts said. “Like our faculty and staff, they know that everything we do is for the benefit of our students, and our community is proud to invest in their future and work for their success.”