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Jaylen Malik Grimes

Click here for complete information on December 2019 Commencement.


Meet Jaylen Malik Grimes

Jaylen Malik Grimes, who was recently elected as ETSU’s 2019 Homecoming King, is graduating this December with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.  The Chattanooga native has been very active on campus as a Preview and orientation leader, a leader in the Quest program, and a member of the Rugby Club, of which he was captain his freshman year and the first black president – a title he has held for three years. He also holds the ETSU Rugby Club’s top scoring record for a single season, as well as the most hat tricks (scoring three times in a game) and the most tries. He has been First and Second Team Conference four times, and has also tried out for USA Rugby and a pro team in Atlanta. Regardless of the results of those tryouts, Grimes plans to begin working toward a master’s degree in higher education and pursue a career working in a multipurpose facility much like ETSU’s Wayne G. Basler Center for Physical Activity, where he can have a positive effect on retention and graduation rates by encouraging students to strive for wellness on physical, mental and spiritual levels.

I understand you’re a first-generation college student.  Tell me about your early life – what you were like, things you enjoyed doing – and describe your path to college.

Growing up, I was always very social and liked talking to people. I wasn’t always school-oriented. I definitely was a sports guy in high school. I played football and wrestling, and became captain in both. I started really caring for school once I hit college. I originally came to ETSU to play football, but when that didn’t work out, I just decided to do other things like Orientation, Quest, Preview and everything.  But I came in ready to have fun, ready to take in all the experiences, but just maybe not in the right headspace at that time.

Jaylen Malik GrimesA really big push for me with college was definitely the influence of my family, and my sister in particular, because she had been very successful lin her tenure at her school. She’s the one who actually named me. Her name was Maleka, mine’s Malik. Hers means “queen” in Arabic and Swahili, mine is “king” in Arabic and Swahili. So I just hold her real near and dear. She passed away June 30 last year, and it’s been a pretty tough road. It was one of those things that was either going to make me or break me, and so I went to counseling, got the help I needed, and basically just became a better version of me, and through that trial came a very, very great triumph. And here I am about to graduate.

What led you to choose ETSU?

I wanted to go somewhere where none of my friends were going, somewhere that didn’t feel like high school all over again. I also didn’t want to stay in Chattanooga, because that’s where I grew up and I wanted to get a different environment. I definitely wanted to test my maturity and see how well I would do three hours away from home.  And, like I said, I wanted to play football, but when that just didn’t happen, I wasn’t too bent out of shape about it. I just started talking, started looking around, and I found rugby, and that’s where a lot of my leadership skills have come from.  My coach, Dr. Andy Dotterweich, who was also my advisor, definitely helped me in the scholastics part of things and always kept me on track. He also helped me with my love for school and my love for helping students, and taught me a lot of things as president for the Rugby Club.

What led you to choose exercise science as your major?

Just my love for sports. Originally I wanted to do physical therapy, but then I took human anatomy. I wasn’t too good at that, but then I learned that I could use my exercise science and help people in other ways besides physical therapy, and that’s why I stuck with it, because I did love the courses, did love the professors within the field, and I did love just the Clemmer College as a whole, and especially the dean at that time. They’re all willing to help, as long as you open your mouth and you’re working and they see that you’re trying, they will always be there for you. No one has ever told me no if I ever asked for help or told me to do it on my own. They’ve said, “Here’s how we can help, these are the things that you need, here’s a tip, here’s some advice, and if you still need some help, here’s my contact information, here’s my office hours.” I’ve never been spoon-fed, but I’ve never been without a plate, either.

Jaylen Malik GrimesYou were present and participating in a Black Lives Matter rally on campus in 2016 when it was disrupted by a fellow student wearing a gorilla mask.  You were also a leader and spoke with area media in the wake of the incident this fall when flyers were placed around campus, including over the plaques commemorating the five students who integrated the ETSU campus during the Civil Rights era.  How do we increase understanding and keep moving forward in the wake of these incidents?

Basically, for me, it’s just a sign of ignorance, and when I say “ignorance,” I don’t want that to be negative, because all it is is the lack of knowledge. I explain it like this: people come to college to get a degree, and most of the time they’re ignorant of the knowledge they need until they obtain it. So a lot of the time what needs to be done is just having dialogue about it, and then for some people, talking’s not enough – sometimes actions do need to be put in place. Our campus has done a lot, and more action to back up the dialogue would be great. Definitely I would hold open seminars, and invite groups that don’t usually attend. A lot of the times, when we do have dialogues, it’s the same people over and over who are definitely there to listen, definitely who are there for the cause. But the only way to make change is to initiate conversations with people who aren’t necessarily willing to listen, and be persistent and consistent. Just make sure to let them know it’s just a dialogue – you don’t have to agree or anything like that. It’s better to agree to disagree than not have an understanding at all, because at least if you agree to disagree, you listen to one side and the other to get a knowledgeable understanding and to understand why you disagree.

What are some things you enjoy in your spare time?

I’m very in touch with music. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I just kind of recharge in my room and listen to music. I’m a big fan of low lights and candles and things of that nature, so in the little spare time I do have it’s more like “me time.” I’m actually very quiet at home, which is kind of funny considering who I am and what I’ve done.

Also, I just want to give a shout out to OTF – Only the Family and Own Thy Faith. Those are my friends, my family, and we hold each other accountable.


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