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From Big Top to Rocky Top, Ossyra Embodies Volunteer Spirit

Many college students celebrate graduation by traveling or having a grand adventure—something that will let them see world from varying perspectives. But Jessica Ossyra has been there, done that.

Ossyra, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering on Thursday, has already visited all 50 states and 30-plus countries thanks to her time as a circus performer.

“My uncle was a lawyer in Chicago for more than a decade when he decided to run away and join the circus,” Ossyra said. “I was very young when he did this, so I always had an uncle in the circus. My mom was a teacher, so during the summers off from school, we’d travel and visit him. We were able to see the country, earn a little summer money selling toys and concessions, and—best of all—learn how to perform.”

Ossyra said she traveled with the circus for three years, performing aerial stunts, riding elephants, serving as a magician’s assistant, climbing ropes, swinging from ladders, and helping to set up rigging and take down tents.

“It was an incredible experience,” she said.

Read more about Ossyra at tickle.utk.edu.