For most female UT students, the average fall Saturday consists of picking out the best orange and white outfit to wear while cheering on the Vols from the student section. Jessica Henderson's game day rituals, however, are a little different.
Henderson will lead the Pride of the Southland Marching Band onto the field, making this the second time a female drum major has been selected in 144 years of UT history.
"The pressure is unbelievable," said Gary Sousa, director of bands. "The tradition of the Pride of the Southland Band is one of excellence and perfection and all of that lands on the shoulders of a 20-year-old."
The junior in environmental science from LaVergne, Tenn. said this tradition holds "a certain level of respect."
"We've taken 144 years to build a reputation and to uphold it is really awesome," Henderson said. "It connects us to past years."
The application process of the drum major is very extensive, much like a job application, Sousa said. Applicants are interviewed, perform the ever-famous strut (head back, legs high) and, during the Orange and White Game, are put through an audition process of leading the band in a game day situation.
Although Henderson believes this process was fair, she said the big question was how she would take the criticism.
"I was going up against four guys," Henderson said. "I got a lot of questions about how I would take the criticism, not that I don't have the ability to do it, just how I would take the feedback. It was definitely fair, but it was a question on people's mind."
When discussing the selection of drum major, Sousa said communication was open about pressure on females versus pressure on males in leadership roles, but ultimately, the faculty wants the best student leader.
The drum major position not only requires leadership skills, but also musical ability strong enough to earn the respect of fellow band members, Sousa said.
"There are 330 members and a lot of them are upperclassmen and they are very demanding," Sousa said. "As a leader, you can only make so many mistakes before they start to lose faith in what you do.
"She has strong musicianship skills, strong leadership skills and she can take a hit."
Henderson said no matter who the position went to, it comes with a level of respect that people know and understand, and she sees it as a position above even herself.
"I went into this knowing that you have to be completely selfless," she said. "You have to give yourself to the band. You're going to be the first one to get hit with criticism. You have to know your stuff all the time.
"It's definitely going to be rewarding knowing that on Saturday we're going to look perfect because I knew what I was doing and I could lead them well."
Henderson said her time with the band has been a great bonding experience, and considers her band members to be her best friends.
And with that experience has come lofty expectations.
"I hope to leave the high standard," Henderson said. "I want to raise the bar. I want this band to stay as perfect as it is.
"Each year we get more people, new people, new leaders and I want to leave them with the precedent that they have to rise up and take responsibility for what we're doing and the level of excellence that we uphold."
Upon graduating, Henderson wants to join the Peace Corps and supply water to foreign countries. She believes this job is teaching her to wait for no one, ultimately making her a stronger person.
"I don't want to dwell on the female thing, but a lot of people say the world is a male's world and not just for me," Henderson said, "but I want to give other women the motivation to go after what they want.
"You never know what you can do until you try."