Henry Doss (B.A. '77)

Henry DossIn this excerpt from a speech he made to College of Liberal Arts and Sciences donors, alumnus Henry Doss explains why he thinks it is important to give back to the college:

Institutions like UNC Charlotte are built around their history, and their history is built around people.

My personal history with this institution stretches back now for 33 years.

I was the first person in my family to graduate from UNC Charlotte, way back in 1977. But I was not the last. In fact, there has rarely been a time in the past couple of decades when there wasn’t someone from my family attending UNC Charlotte. There’s a total of eight UNC Charlotte graduates (with 10 degrees of various kinds) from our family.

So for me, one of the obvious reasons I love this institution is for its presence in mine and my family’s lives for the past 31 years.

But, really, that’s only part of the story of why I love UNC Charlotte, and why I think it’s so important to give back to this institution.

My reason is magic.

In 1973 I walked onto the UNC Charlotte campus, a major in English Literature, still working full-time as a construction laborer, not at all certain of what to expect, and not even sure of what to look for. I don’t think you could find a better example of an underprepared and less promising student than I was.

One of my first classes was Expository Writing, taught by Sam Watson. I remember to this day walking into that class – literally, I can see it in my mind’s eye right now.

For me that moment captures everything that is important about UNC Charlotte.

Because it was there that the magic began for me.

For me that magic was a personal transformation.

In that English classroom, for the first time, I discovered that I had a voice. For the first time in my life, I was asked to write or speak to what I believed, and to hold myself accountable for being clear. For the first time in my life I was exposed to dialogue and reflection and the sheer joy that comes from being exposed to ideas.

And wonder of wonders, someone listened to me.

That was the magic. That was the heart of personal transformation.  That is the reason we have UNC Charlotte.

Ideas!

For my three years at UNC Charlotte, I had the ultimate privilege of being surrounded by smart people who would share ideas with me; strong personalities that would challenge my own ideas; real scholars who would teach me about how history shaped our thinking and how our thinking shaped our history; interested and interesting professors who showed me how literature grew out of time and context.

For me, UNC Charlotte was the place where I discovered possibility, and where the power of ideas first became real for me.

Now, as it turned out, I was a pretty good student of English.  I think Sam to this day would say I was “promising.” But I had neither the temperament — nor I think the intellect — to pursue scholarship. And so to the chagrin of my English teachers, I ultimately went into a banking and business career.

But even on that career path, the legacy of my time at UNC Charlotte pays me back every day.

I carry with me every day a deep and abiding gratitude to Sam Watson and all my other teachers in the English Department, who gave me the greatest gift anyone can receive – the gift of a liberal arts education.

And perhaps more important, they gave me the gift of becoming a life-long learner. This liberal arts education is what opened my eyes to ideas, to scope, to the world and to the notion of possibility.

It’s impossible of course to rewrite history, and the “what if” question is not very scientific. But as I thought about today, I couldn’t help but imagine what my life might have been like, had I not had the experiences I did at UNC Charlotte.

Who knows? All I do know for sure is this.

I received a great gift from UNC Charlotte – the notion of possibility, and a love of ideas.  And that gift has been with me in every aspect of my life since.