Featured Alumni: Bill Lawrence ’93

Bill Lawrence ’93

1.     What made you choose to pursue a college education at Rio Grande?

I started my college education at a large state university. After two years, I felt like a number and wanted to be somewhere that professors and staff would take an interest in my education and growth. Anyone who has been a student at Rio Grande will tell you that the professors and staff do those things very well!

2.     How were you involved on Rio’s campus?

My involvement on campus was scattershot at best, horrible at worst. I tried many different things, but never really stuck with or succeeded at any of them. The most embarrassing was the time I ran for Student Senate President and was actually elected! In retrospect, I was not ready for such responsibility and made a total disaster of it. The other members of Student Senate hated me. My grades went down, and I resigned. Despite my failure, the faculty advisors and my fellow students were nice about it. Some valuable lessons were learned from that catastrophe. In fact, this is the first time I have not been too embarrassed to talk about it.

3.     What did Rio offer you besides an education?

Whether it was in the classroom, on campus, or just socially, Rio gave me a chance to figure out my true authentic self. Rio also gave me a tribe of mentors and friends who made me a better person. There was a group of us who all started out together in the basement of Holzer Hall and migrated together over to the New Dorm. Some of us are still friends 25 years later!

4.     What are some of your favorite Rio memories?

I loved it when snow shut down the roads, leaving us “trapped” on campus (except when in need of crucial supplies). We would go to Rio Tire to get inner tubes to ride down Lyne Center hill. Any further details about snow day parties might still incriminate those of us involved!

5.     Was there any teacher, advisor, coach, etc. that made an impact on your life? How?

Dr. Barry Thompson was my advisor and a professor for a lot of my classes. He really helped me see the fascinating world outside our own geography and culture. I was better able to make sense of the world events that took place in the decades that followed.

On the other hand, Dr. Ivan Tribe gave me a great love of where I am from. Between reading his book, “The Stonemans”, what I learned in class, and some of the conversations we had after class, I gained a great appreciation of Appalachian music, culture and history that remains to this day.

I also worked in the Instructional Media Center. Many formative conversations took place with Jake Bapst and Mike Thompson during my hours there. Much was learned about life in general. Too bad I could not earn a grade or academic credits for those conversations.

6.     What did you learn about yourself during college?

Just earning a paycheck and climbing a corporate ladder was not good enough for me. To find contentment, I had to be part of a cause. My failures came when I just did things for myself. Success FINALLY came when I started doing it for others!

7.     Tell us about life after Rio.

It took two years of working at a car lot, a consumer lending place, and a truck factory to pay some bills and find my way toward my eventual career. In fact, my career trajectory was looking bleak at first. During that time, I journeyed down to North Carolina to visit a Rio friend and roommate, Dave Fernbacher. On one of those visits, I interviewed with Boy Scouts of America and thus begun my career. Dave was my best man when I married Christie a few years later. I still consider him one of the best people I know.

8.     How did Rio prepare you for your career?

I learned that leadership was something you had to grow into, rather than jump into guns blazing. My time at Rio taught me to slow down, listen and know what I was doing before taking on too much responsibility. Rio also taught me how to work with a diverse group of people. I may be organizing a new Scout Troop in a public housing project on the same day I am making a presentation to a Governor in the State House. I would not have been able to seamlessly deal with those ranges of people without some of my experiences at Rio.

9.     Why are you proud to be a Rio Alumnus?

Most of us are a scrappy bunch of kids from small towns in Appalachia or the so-called ‘rust belt’ who go on to do great things. In this part of the world, things have the potential of going haywire for young people. I am proud that Rio is giving those young people an opportunity to make the world a better place. It is amazing to see what my Rio friends are doing these days. At the end of the day, I work with and even supervise people from wealthy backgrounds and prestigious institutions. It is rather hilarious to explain to those folks that my alma mater is pronounced ‘Rye-O’ and is along the southern border of Ohio, rather than Texas!

10.  Do you have any advice for current students?

Use this opportunity and time in your life to figure out these four things about yourself:

1.) Purpose – What drives you beyond personal success and wealth

2.) Contentment – Happiness, fortune, and success are moving targets. Find what and who keeps you in a good place, despite the difficulties life throws your way.

3.) Authenticity – Live a life that meets your values and your most authentic self. Do not base it on what others think you should be. Only you can make that call!

4.) Find Your Tribe – You are only the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Hang with people who will make you better and contribute to their greatness.

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