Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. often tells freshmen he doesn’t want them to have a job, but a cause, which becomes their commitment and their career.
According to Hawkins, he applies the same principle to his life, which is what makes him enthusiastic about leading Troy nearly 29 years after first stepping into the chancellor role.
“If you ever dread going to work one day, you probably aren’t doing the right thing for yourself or for the world or anyone,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins cites his faith as the most important thing in his life, closely followed by his family.
“I grew up and still believe in honor, duty, country,” he said. “I love this country, and I want our students to feel the same way about it.”
A Mobile native, Hawkins was born in a blue-collar family and said his father, whose education was limited to the eighth grade, was a product of the Great Depression. His circumstances helped him develop a strong work ethic.
“I am proud of that because it taught me at a young age how to manage my dollars, or limited pennies, at that time,” he said.
Hawkins said most people he knew from his youth were veterans from World War II or the Korean war, which motivated him, coupled with a strong sense of patriotism, to serve in the military.
“One of the reasons I went to college was to get a commission in the United States Marine Corps,” he said. “I knew that.
“I was one of the very few who I wouldn’t say volunteered for Vietnam, but I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam.”
While Hawkins has visited Vietnam to speak at Troy campuses, his first trip to the East Asian country was in 1968, at the age of 23, when he served with the Marines as a platoon leader of 35 to 40 men during the Vietnam war.
“I was responsible for those men,” he said.
It was then he was able to hone his servant leadership skills, for which he finds inspiration in the gospel of Matthew.
“There were two words that had a real impact on me in the military, and it was those simple words ‘eat last,’” he said “And what that obviously means is when you’re in a leadership role, get to the end of the line and take care of the people who you’re responsible for — in our case, our students, but it also includes our faculty and staff and the world around us.”
Hawkins said he could not have asked for a more “robust environment” than leading his platoon in what were often life or death situations to develop his leadership skills.
“I wasn’t always successful, but I learned from my mistakes,” he said.
His time with the military allowed Hawkins to travel to different parts of the world, which was an experience that inspired him to transform Troy into “Alabama’s international university.”
“I think I realized early in my life that one of the big challenges we face is ignorance of each other,” he said.
Hawkins said that he realized many Alabamians and Americans didn’t have the opportunity to travel outside the United States, and, thus, had a limited view of the world. This inspired him to push for “bringing the world to Troy.”
He also wanted to make Troy University students globally competitive by giving them cultural exposure and teaching them to appreciate diversity.
“Differences need not be feared; differences need to be understood, and then when differences are understood, they can be appreciated,” he said. “I think at Troy, unlike most other universities, especially in the Deep South, we found our strength in those differences.”
Troy University, according to Hawkins, is characterized by a culture of caring that has evolved and is the reason many students, including international students, want to be a part of it.
According to Hawkins, these factors help the Troy campus boast students from over 76 different countries today.
About 10 years ago, Hawkins was encouraged by a group of people to consider the possibility of running for public office.
“The group that asked me to do that, I made them one commitment, and that was, I will not say ‘no’ yet, I will review it,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins ultimately decided against it because he wasn’t convinced he would love politics as much as his role at Troy.
“I don’t know if I could have been elected; I think we could have made a strong statement,” he said.
Hawkins said his passion for Troy inspired him to renew his contract recently to continue his role of chancellor.
According to Hawkins, the best advice he has received about retirement is to retire into something and not from something.
“It just so happens that I don’t know what I can do in retirement that would influence me more than what I am doing,” he added.
However, he isn’t opposed to reconsidering his stance on politics if an opportunity presents itself.
“Hopefully, when I get to the point where I think that we have done as much as we can do here, I am hopeful that there will be something out there,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be elected office, though.”