Without having to think about it for even a split second, I dedicated my first book, Social TV, to Don Harley. I realize that most of you guys who end up reading the book (and thank you for reading it) won’t know who Don is – or, rather, was. And I really want you to know – because he will forever be an incredibly core part of who I am.
Don was an employee of the University of New Hampshire for 25 years – but if you were to ask him, he’d tell you he worked for its students. I was very active in student government during my time at UNH and Don served as the Treasurer of the Student Activity Fee – a 1.2 million dollar budget (at the time) wherein a council of student leaders had a rare and rather autonomous authority to allocate that money across student-run programs, services, and organizations.
While the fiduciary responsibilities of Don’s job were obviously inherent to the “SAF” Treasurer role, Don was something so much more – he was an unconditionally trusted mentor to many student leaders while they attended UNH and beyond graduation. For me, he was also a bit of a surrogate father after having suddenly lost my own just a year before I met Don. There was just something in the way in which he communicated with student leaders that had such a resonant effect on them. In his own words:
“It has been said that there are four kinds of educators: Those who see students as widgets passing on an assembly line; those who see students as vessels to be filled; those who see students as unmolded blocks of clay; those who see students as lamps to be lighted. The SAF Treasurer must be a lamplighter.”
In September of 2002, Don had a heart attack. His wife set up an endowment in his name that, each year, grants a scholarship to a UNH student leader. For several years I was honored to speak about Don at the awards banquet in front of hundreds of students who never got to know him -- So I thought the best way for you guys to understand what he meant to me was to share what I’ve said about him from the very first scholarship presentation in 2004 to my most recent one from 2009. If you’re interested in reading them, you can download a PDF of these speeches.
What you’ll find if you read them is that Don had planned to write and publish a book about student leadership but it never had a chance to come to fruition. And while my book covers a very different topic, I can only hope that there’s a little bit of Don Harley in it as, even today, there’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t, in some way, influence me.