Standing on the lush green lawn of the Taj Mahal, Health Care Leadership major Antwon Gates ’15 was overcome with gratitude. The trip to India, coordinated by Valparaiso University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, was an opportunity for students to observe health care outside of the United States.
For Antwon, it was also symbolic of a journey he’s been on since he first learned of Valparaiso University from one of Valpo’s accomplished alumni, Cornell Boggs ’82, ’85 J.D., the senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Dow Corning and one of Savoy Network’s 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America.
The two met while Antwon was in the process of discerning where his life would take him.
“I was in a rough spot,” he said. “I was 24 years old and spent much of my time with people who lacked ambition. I realized in order to do good things I had to associate myself with good people,” he said.
Antwon began working at a Virginia boarding school, where he supervised students in the residence halls.
“The job was fulfilling and gave me an opportunity to watch kids grow and change,” he said. “It was an experience that helped me mature.”
The experience directly influenced the trajectory of Antwon’s life, as one of the students he supervised was Cornell’s stepson. When Cornell and Antwon first met, Cornell immediately saw in Antwon someone committed to making a difference.
“Antwon came from an underprivileged family in Columbia, S.C. In addition to working at the school, he was attending community college with an aspiration to go into health care,” Cornell said.
As a student, Cornell’s life had been changed by another Valpo alum, Richard Duesenberg ’51, ’53 J.D., who took a vested interest in his success.
“We met while I was a senior, and he was a distinguished practitioner in residence at Valpo,” Cornell said. “Richard was very helpful and instructive, and he was instrumental in my decision to attend law school. There isn’t anything I’ve done in my career that we haven’t discussed first.”
Cornell was impressed that Richard intentionally reached out to him and took on a mentorship role. The experience made Cornell appreciate the role Valpo alumni can make in the lives of current and prospective students. Since graduating, he has worked to stay connected to the University and to give back in any way he can.
“My wife and I always coach and encourage students, and we strive to reinvest in the university to make sure others have an experience as enriching as I had,” he shared.
Cornell thought Antwon could also benefit from and contribute to the unique community at Valpo. He and Antwon began corresponding, and a relationship developed.
“I told Cornell that growing up I never knew many successful African Americans,” Antwon said. “I just liked to talk to him and pick his brain.”
Cornell invited Antwon to visit Valpo’s campus and to stay with him in Chicago. Gazing at the Chicago skyline, Antwon could see the future he dreamed of come into focus. He decided to give the College of Nursing and Health Professions a call.
Now a junior, Antwon said all of his classes — from Communication Process in Health Care, to Business Law, to Indian Christian Theology — have helped him to become a more well-rounded person.
“I’ve been challenged to think outside the box in each class, and my professors have helped me find my voice,” he said. “I am thankful for them and the University for the opportunities to expand my horizons.”
Antwon’s trip to India during spring break was one of those unique opportunities. In addition to visiting health care facilities, Antwon and his classmates toured many of the country’s historical and cultural attractions and spent time learning with and from people they otherwise would never have met.
Antwon isn’t certain about his next step after gradation. He may continue his education with Valpo’s Masters of Health Administration program or perhaps apply to law school, but one thing he is certain of is where he can turn for advice.
Just as Cornell values the advice of his mentor, Richard Duesenberg, Antwon knows that wherever his journey may lead him — whether it’s the steps of the Taj Mahal or continuing his education through graduate school — he has the support and guidance of a caring Valpo alumnus to offer wisdom along the way.