John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

My October 1 Anniversary

John N. Gardner

This is a day I mark each year. We all have our life mile markers by which we benchmark the onward march of our lives and work. October 1, 1999 is the day I literally moved with Betsy Barefoot from our lives at the University of South Carolina to Brevard, North Carolina. Most people who knew me well thought I would never leave USC. And I didn’t think so either. Actually, I didn’t really “leave” as I have had the continuing privilege of an appointment there since my move, as a Senior Fellow in the University’s National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. For this I am extremely thankful.

Betsy and I moved into a new home we had built on a mountain top in western North Carolina. We have a 360 degree view out about 25 miles or so looking at the escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Pisgah, the highest point in our region at over 5000 feet above sea level. Betsy and I have 21 acres about 1000 feet above the valley below us, where lies the quaint county seat of Brevard and about 6000 people. It is quiet, peaceful, and unbelievably beautiful. We are the last residence on a dead end road at the highest point on the road.

So this October 1 is our fifteenth anniversary in Brevard. And it will be followed on October 18th by the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the non-profit organization, which we founded to focus on excellence in undergraduate education. We had no idea then that we were creating something that would continue and flourish for a decade and a half. And given the challenges that small, non-profit organizations have faced during the ravages of the Great Recession, that is no small feat.

Betsy and I were able to launch this new work thanks to the confidence in our ability to do new work that did not duplicate our former and continuing work for the University of South Carolina, confidence in us invested by the higher education program staff of The Pew Charitable Trusts, under the leadership then of our mentor Russ Edgerton.

I would have probably stayed at USC forever but the state had a policy that applied to all personnel except the sons of celebrity football coaches, a nepotism policy prohibiting in our case the marriage of two people, one of whom would have been in a supervisory capacity over the other. So, we left for love.

When I was in college, oh yes, I was aware of the concept of anniversaries and life’s mile markers. But I would never have predicted such anniversaries for myself. And this all became possible because I had attended college and benefited in so many ways from a college education that prepared me to work for a great university, to do the work I continue to do today, and with another individual I met in the same context. When I talk to undergraduates I occasionally point out the research findings on the outcomes of college. They are vast. And in my case they have given me an adult life that has yielded these anniversaries. I bet the same is true for many of my readers.

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