Even though my memories of freshman year at college are a little hazy by now, I still remember my first week at Valencia Community College’s student newspaper. All of us new “staffers” were being briefed about the different stories we could choose to cover, in case anyone was short of ideas at the beginning.
I wasn’t. I had my own agenda. I wanted to do some personal research into some accessibility issues I had noticed around campus. I thought about who I could interview about it– the Office for Students with Disabilities, perhaps someone in the facilities department, or maybe I could track down the college’s architect.
I settled on the President of Valencia (HA!). One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m very impatient. I like to begin my contacts from the very top of the chain of command. And that I did. I already knew some people around Valencia who “had my back.” They encouraged me to call and book an appointment with the prez, Dr. Sanford “Sandy” Shugart.
It actually didn’t take long for me to schedule that appointment. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized this, but I still had reservations about interviewing him. I mean, what would he, the president of the college I had just begun attending, think of the brazen little freshman who already fancied herself an “advocacy journalist?” Honestly, I look back on those days, at myself, and I cringe. I also think I find that previous “self” of mine somewhat endearing. I genuinely thought I was out to change the world with my collection of Bic ballpoints and my small legal pad.
My friends in one of the higher-level offices lent me a boardroom for me to conduct the interview, and I brought my hand-held tape recorder (along with extra tapes) in my tiny Pochacco “backpack.”
I remember shaking his hand, and then as we took our seats at the table in the boardroom, I nervously clicked on my tape recorder and sat, poised and ready to jot down whatever he said, word for word.
Before asking any questions, I began with a brief explanation that I had done a little research about him.
“Did you Google me?” he asked. I laughed a little shyly, but immediately relaxed considerably. This was no stuffy school principal who was holding my “permanent record.” This was a classy, sophisticated, yet laid-back guy who, in spite of the title, was “down” with the students. He knew us.
From what I had read about him online (yes, via Google!), he was an accomplished artist. He is a musician, playing guitar and singing now and then at college events, and also a published poet. When I read that, it conjured up the image of a cool-cat, beatnik-type dude.
It’s been about two years since I graduated Valencia, and transferred to UCF, but since Mom continues to work there, and I have a class in their UCF building, I constantly see the people who’ve known me since I started as a freshman, the people who have watched me “grow up.” I have to say, busy as he is, I don’t run into Dr. Shugart that often. His offices are in downtown Orlando, so students can usually see him at college-wide events and such.
Still, a few months ago, I had E-mailed him about my blog, and he responded with some very encouraging words. A few short months later, he invited me to the “Evening with Helen Thomas and Craig Crawford” event held at West Campus. I’m sure he knew it was right up my alley.
While lounging in my favorite spot at Valencia today (the coffee shop!), Dr. Shugart spotted me and came over to my table to greet me with a friendly hug. While we “chewed the rag,” I updated him on my blogging efforts. He spontaneously offered to help in any way possible. I took him up on his offer immediately, and he assured me he would try to put me in contact with someone I had previously tried to reach.
All that being said, as he is an exceptional leader in the college arena (leading one of the top five community colleges in the nation!), and since his support, though demonstrated through our brief encounters, has been instrumental to my success as a student and as a journalist, I think it’s safe to say Dr. Shugart is a hero all around!
What amazes me most about him, though, as that he seems to treat each student at Valencia (and alumni, too) as if he or she were the student that matters most.
I sincerely hope he is able to share the mission of “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” with many people, so that many people will treat this cause as the one that matters most!
Please, please don’t forget to visit CNN’s Impact Your World site and check out all the great organizations that are supporting relief for Haiti and Chile.
Good night, and good luck,
P.S. I could not make the photo bigger. If I could have, I definitely would have.