Ernie Barnett, Class of 1979

2001 Distinguished Alumni Recipient

In simple terms, our lives are a continuum of decisions and actions that lead us to our lot in life. It is amazing to reflect on how I ended up where I am. I came from a loving and caring family that stressed the importance of education. While I was not a stellar student at Choctawhatchee Senior High School (I was much more interested in basketball and girls), I always knew that I would attend college.

My choice of where to begin my higher education was an easy decision. My father had attended Okaloosa-Walton Community College on the GI Bill before graduating from the University of West Florida, and it only seemed natural that I would follow in his footsteps. While my friends were planning their moves to Tallahassee, Gainesville and Auburn, I was comfortable in knowing that I, too, had a place to go.

It is difficult to determine exactly what inspires someone to rise up and recognize his or her full potential as a student, professional, person, and parent. I am positive that I made that decision while I was attending OWCC. People talk about epiphanies and revelations that change their lives and chart a new course for their future. I know the precise moment it happened to me. During a zoology lecture, Mr. Ross Hamilton posed a basic question to the class, "What property of water makes it essential to the circulatory system in animals?" After moments of painful silence, Mr. Hamilton looked at me as my eyes darted away and said, "Barnett, what do you think?" I thought for a second and replied with confidence, "Adhesion." A smile slowly appeared on Mr. Hamiltons face and he said, "You are going to make it after all, Barnett." You see, Mr. Hamilton knew me as a basketball player from the local high school where his wife was the cheerleading sponsor and as a smart-mouthed kid who played intramural basketball. I walked out of his classroom believing that I was now thought of for the first time in my life as a good student.

It has been more than 22 years since that day. I have gone on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and a Master's degree in Biology from the University of West Florida. I have dedicated that past 18 years to being an environmental professional with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and have received local, state, and national recognition for my work. I have authored 32 publications and agency reports and have worked my way through the ranks to be a senior manager in my agency.

It is frightening to think where I might be today if I had not made the decision to attend Okaloosa-Walton Community College where the faculty took a personal interest in me and enabled me to reach my full potential. I am proud to be a graduate of Boggy Tech. To go there just might have been one of the best decisions I ever made.

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