FDLTCC president says farewell
Larry Anderson has handed out his last diploma during his last commencement as president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet.
After about 10 years of leading the college and another 13 years in administrative duties, Anderson is ready to relax.
His passion has always been about helping and encouraging students. Before he was president of the college, he was dean of students. At one point, he was also a high school football coach.
Anderson is quick to credit those around him for the successes and improvements made during his years as president.
One of the first hurdles Anderson tackled was getting the college financially stable and working through the accreditation processes.
Anderson gives much of the credit to Stephanie Hammitt, whom he asked to return to FDLTCC about 10 years ago. He asked her to take care of the audit findings, the budget process and to be transparent. She accomplished all he asked. The college now has a strong fund balance.
"New Interim President Hammitt and Vice President Dr. Anna Fellegy have been two key people who have helped keep FDLTCC successful," Anderson said. "Without them, I could not have been as effective as the president."
He also credited legislators for helping make the college the success it is today.
"Sen. Tony Lourey and Rep. Mary Murphy have been big supporters," Anderson said.
FDLTCC is a unique school, not only for Minnesota, but for the United States. The college serves American Indians as well as a strong non-traditional student body and traditional students.
"We have a good diversity," Anderson said.
FDLTCC brings traditional western education and indigenous education together so they can learn from each other.
"I think that makes everyone better," Anderson said. "It doesn't mean everything is perfect. It just means it's a safe place to talk about it."
The college now has a strong partnership with the Fond du Lac Reservation and the State of Minnesota. But it wasn't always like that. Anderson worked hard to improve communications and build the partnerships to the point they are today.
"It's complicated," Anderson admitted with a laugh. He added that the college is stronger now because of those partnerships.
"The heart of the institution is the people who work here," he said.
One of the accomplishments he is proud to have happen under his watch is the 10-year unconditional accreditation from World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium last fall.
Hands down, Anderson's favorite part of his presidency has been helping students to see they can succeed.
"When someone says, if not for you I wouldn't have gone to college," he said with a smile. "It happened quite a few times."
Hammitt said Anderson would "see things in people that not everyone could."
"If he saw someone struggling, he would tell them about his history and encourage them," she said.
She described Anderson as a kind, thoughtful, student-centered person.
"He has a wide base of support from everyone," Hammitt said as tears welled up in her eyes. She said she refused to think about the future without Anderson beginning the mornings by walking down the hallway and greeting everyone.
"I have always said I am the luckiest man in the world to have this job," Anderson said. "I really mean that."
He believes strongly in the mission as well as the pipe and drum. He keeps a drawing on his eraser board of the words "pipe" and "drum" inside a circle as a constant reminder.
"The pipe leads the way," Anderson said.
FDLTCC saw student enrollment jump substantially in 2010-12, although, like many schools, enrollment has dropped in recent years.
Anderson believes the time is right for him to step aside and let a new leader take over.
"I was a good caretaker," Anderson said humbly. "I feel good about leaving because we have so many great faculty and staff. I know Stephanie will do a good job. Also, the plan is in place and if followed it will follow the mission of the college."
While Hammitt is honored to be chosen as the first female interim president, she said Anderson will be a tough act to follow.
"We tried to convince him to stay," Hammitt said. "It's the only time he has been selfish (done something for himself). No one can fill his shoes."
She said she feels better about Anderson leaving because after the graduation ceremony he told her he is at peace with his decision.
Anderson appreciates the show of support for the students at the graduation ceremony in the amount of people in the audience.
"It's what makes it so special," Anderson said.
In his final speech to the graduating class, Anderson said he wanted to thank the students for what they have given him. The opportunity to see them learn and grow as they went from nervous fledgling new students into the confident people graduating Thursday evening.
He urged them to remember the core values of the college, respect, integrity, stewardship, innovation and compassion.
"Please remember your compassion. It is so important, especially today," Anderson said.
He encouraged the students to go out into the world and fulfill their dreams and to be a little bit better each day.
"Each day be a little bit better and you will all be superstars," Anderson told the graduates.
And what are Andersons plans for his retirement?
"I want to be an old man standing in a garden or on a riverbank," Anderson said with a laugh.
The public is welcome to a retirement reception honoring Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College President Larry Anderson is Wednesday, June 6, at 11 a.m. in the amphitheater at FDLTCC.