When a chancellor retires, formal receptions with various dignitaries are traditional, but one group of students at East Carolina University wanted to do something more personal.
Several former student body presidents got together and hosted a surprise home-cooked dinner for outgoing Chancellor Steve Ballard and his wife Nancy at the chancellor’s residence on Saturday, March 5.
“We wanted to do something in an intimate setting and honor him in a personal manner,” said Drew Griffin ’08, who coordinated the event. He served as president during the 2008-2009 school year as a last semester senior and first semester graduate student. “We wanted him to hear how much we appreciated him in a way that he could relax and soak it all in.”
Griffin and many of the other former presidents have kept in touch over the years, so when they heard Ballard was retiring, they knew they wanted to put together a nice surprise for him, it was just a question of how. Griffin and the others worked in secret with Mrs. Ballard to set a date and make their plans. A meal on campus or at a restaurant would attract too much attention, and catering an event at the house would spoil the surprise.
“I told Mrs. Ballard, how about we do this: we’ll just show up with bags full of groceries and cook dinner for everyone,” Griffin said.
It took some doing, with former presidents and spouses coming in from multiple states, and Mrs. Ballard having to convince her husband to stay home that night instead of attending a baseball game as he loves to do, but the event went off without a hitch.
After enjoying a meal of chicken parmesan, roasted vegetables and Caesar salad, everyone took turns sharing what Chancellor Ballard meant to them and what they had learned from him.
“It’s rare to encounter a leader that treats you as a peer,” said Justin Davis ’15, who served as president in 2012. Like all student body presidents at ECU, Davis served as an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees.
“Serving on the board can be daunting for a 20-year-old,” Davis said. “He really listened to us. That does something for your confidence and professional development. I learned as much on the board as I did in class. His character and commitment made us who we are as people today.”
Davis is now the director of business development for a local catering company. Griffin is founding vice president of a consulting firm for the government in Washington, D.C.
“The environment he created at ECU allowed us to learn about leadership and entrepreneurship,” Griffin said. “He set an example. He was so poised under pressure. We got to see that up close. That’s definitely something I took away from ECU. It was nice to put life to the words we’ve been feeling all these years.”
Davis learned from Ballard that leadership is rendering vision into reality. Davis says, “His impact has been felt not only through the university but through this whole area.”
–Jackie Drake, ECU News Services