Even though he was several decades older than me, Jerry Hitt was my friend. Over the years, we developed a special bond. Jerry started working in undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech in the 1960s and continued to work full-time at the Institute until the 1990s. When I met him, he was still reading applications seasonally in a Director of Admissions Emeritus role.
Jerry died just before Thanksgiving, so the past week has been bittersweet. His health had declined over the last few years and his memory faded. He had started to tell the same few stories but still with great passion and detail. What never diminished was his zeal for life and his unrivaled love for Georgia Tech.
I learned many lessons from Jerry, but these four really stick out to me.
1) Keep it simple
We quickly hit it off. Jerry loved to talk about simpler times. No cell phones, no email, no online admission decisions. He would spin yarns about faculty versus staff softball games, tell stories about presidents gone by, or recount how Georgia Tech came to use a holistic admission process. Whether in the hallway, on the golf course at Bobby Jones (where he served as a starter) or over a meal, he always helped me to slow down and appreciate how we got to where we are as an institution.
2) Seek Perspective & Enjoy Life
He always encouraged me as director to build trust and relationships on campus, and to walk around rather than relying too much on phone calls or email (pretty sure he did not ever learn to text…). He always pointed me back to the things that matter the most: spending time with family, really listening to students, faculty and staff needs and dreams, and generally enjoying life.
3) Serve others
I’ve traveled all over the country for Tech, and never go more than a few months without an alum mentioning Jerry. They talk about how he gave them a chance by admitting them and in doing so changed their life. Or I will run into someone that worked with Jerry and they ask about him with great fondness and respect. He was just one of those people– he listened well, he liked to laugh, and he treated people sincerely.
4) Express Appreciation
If you’re applying to college, there is no question that there are a few people who have given you that vision and provided you with opportunities and encouragement. It is easy to get caught up in completing essays, making sure all of your recommendation letters have been submitted, and taking exams. Jerry would simply urge you to pause in an otherwise frenzied time to say thanks to those who have put you in the position to be able to apply to and ultimately attend college. Maybe that person is a parent or a teacher or coach, or perhaps a counselor or a grandparent. Who are your Jerry Hitts? Who keeps you grounded and adds value in your life? Be sure you take a moment to hug them, tell them you love them, and let them know you recognize the gift of their impact on you.