Pepperdine Faculty Recall Childhood Memories ‹Pepperdine Graphic

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Thomas Vandergon stands in front of his childhood home at the age of 4. This is the same house where Vandergon often found garter snakes to take home to his mother. Photo courtesy of Thomas Vandergon

The childhood dreams of Pepperdine’s faculty of being professional athletes and movie stars – President Jim Gash and professors take a walk down memory lane to remember their teenage years.

More often than not, students recognize faculty as their job title rather than who they are in their personal lives. Moving away from the seriousness of their role as university leaders, professors compare their childhood aspirations to their professions today.

“I think this is important because too often as a society we tend to view people in leadership positions only as their job, as opposed to who they are, what matters to them and their story. “said Gash.

Biology and natural sciences Professor Thomas Vandergon has always felt drawn to nature. Vandergon grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, with five siblings. Some of his favorite childhood memories were riding a bicycle and exploring the woods behind his house with his siblings.

Vandergon said he was a pretty mischievous kid – he would find and keep salamanders as pets in window flower boxes and bring home lost cats.

“I loved animals, I loved wildlife, but I didn’t think of being a biologist when I was a kid,” Vandergon said. “I knew though that when I was in high school, I kind of wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. “

The childhoods of Pepperdine’s teachers were diverse – while Vandergon enjoyed being outdoors, Communication Professor Jaz Gray preferred the projectors.

Entertainment has always been a passion for Gray. Gray said the movies she grew up watching with her family sparked her dream of being in the limelight.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist,” Gray said. “I wanted to be a singer, actress, model and I had very big dreams of being in the entertainment industry as an on-screen talent.

Jaz Gray sits as she has her photo taken at just seven months old. Gray grew up in Memphis, Tenn., With a younger sister. Photo courtesy of Jaz Gray

In her youth, Gray performed in local theaters and was a model. She got involved in American Girls Live and took the role based on the doll Addy walker, which comes from fictional stories about a 9 year old child daughter born into slavery and escaped to freedom with her mother during the civil war.

Gray said that when his birth defect, arteriovenous malformation, began to affect her physical appearance, some of her childhood dreams of being in front of the camera were no longer possible. Hollywood’s biased view of beauty may have barred her from being onscreen, but she was still determined to achieve her ambitions.

Gray has pursued a leadership career to work behind the scenes in the entertainment industry and now uses his experiences to teach.

“I would tell my young self that you don’t have to adapt to what is ‘normal’ for people to love and appreciate you and that even if you are not the smartest or the most outgoing”, Gray said. “You are still valuable because you are created by God and you are here for a purpose. “

A young Gray poses in his unitard while waiting for a performance.  She always loved being in the spotlight and entertaining.  Photo courtesy of Jaz Gray

A young Gray poses in his unitard while waiting for a performance. She always loved being in the spotlight and entertaining. Photo courtesy of Jaz Gray

Notch says Jesus, family and sports influenced his childhood the most. Gash grew up in Santa Rosa, California with three siblings he calls his “integrated best friends.” Family was incredibly important to Gash from a young age – he and his siblings all played competitive sports and spent most of their days training and watching each other’s events.

“We were out until it was time to come home for dinner – we did a lot of sports, biking, collecting football and baseball cards,” Gash said. “It was a lot of scratched knees and dirty clothes because we were just kids who were constantly on the move.”

Jim Gash smiles for his fourth grade school photo.  Gash said he lived on a street with other children he often played outside with.  Photo courtesy of Jim Gash

Jim Gash smiles for his fourth grade school photo. Gash said he lived on a street with other children he often played outside with. Photo courtesy of Jim Gash

In addition to sports and family, Gash said faith played a crucial role in his upbringing. Every Sunday he and his family went to church no matter what. Sometimes Gash would say that there would be sporting events on Sunday mornings so their family would have their own version of the church at home and then go to the game.

Gash said his first dream was to be a professional athlete. As he grew older, he then aspired to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a teacher, but that changed when he decided to major in finance on the path to work in business. Having so many ambitions, Gash said if his youngster could see him where he is today, he would be shocked.

“When I was younger I really liked having fun and being with people and got serious about academics later on,” Gash said. “But the fact that I ended up going to graduate school and then running an institution would have come as a surprise to me when I was younger.”

Young Gash poses for the camera during his school photos.  Gash said his parents viewed him as a good kid with a great personality.  Photo courtesy of Jim Gash

Young Gash poses for the camera during his school photos. Gash said his parents viewed him as a good kid with a great personality. Photo courtesy of Jim Gash

Although most professors and university presidents appear like this, they too have had a very similar childhood to that of their students.

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Follow the graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic

Email Lydia duPerier: [email protected]



Key words:
Faculty Aspirations Jaz Gray Life and Arts Lydia duPerier Pepperdine President Graphic Gash Childhood Professor Thomas Vandergon


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