I’m a Peoria boy, born and raised. I was always in awe of Bradley University … especially Bradley Braves basketball. I would often get to see the Braves play at Robertson Memorial Field House. Walking into the Field House on game day was exciting. Seeing life size pictures posted along the entryway of the Famous Five — and others like Chet “The Jet” Walker ’62 — and then seeing the raised floor? In my eyes, this was professional basketball!
As a kid from a working-class family with no great academic credentials, attending a college or university was not a realistic goal. Going to Bradley seemed unthinkable and unattainable. So, I enrolled at Illinois Central College, mainly to give college a try and because tuition was $7.00 a semester hour.
“He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. He taught me to think and read critically. He invested in me personally. He showed me grace.”
Eventually, I was able to transfer to Bradley. It was a dream come true. But my first semester as a business major did not go well. I ended up with a 1.66 GPA and placed on academic probation. I began interviewing for jobs. At one interview, I was asked about why I wasn’t going to finish school. I said I was on the verge of being expelled because of academic failure, and he told me to go back and do everything I could to succeed.
It just so happened during that last semester I took an Ancient Greek history course from Dr. Gregory Guzman. It was life changing. I went to meet with Dr. Guzman and he convinced me to change majors and transfer into the history department. He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. He taught me to think and read critically. He invested in me personally. He showed me grace.
On a final exam, I didn’t read the directions clearly and left off an entire half of the exam, thinking it was pure essay. I realized what I had done immediately after I had turned it in. Dr. Guzman told me to wait and allowed me to take the other half orally in his office.
For my senior writing project, my initial draft came back with a sea of red ink marked all over it. Clearly, he had spent a lot of time on it. With that experience and others, Dr. Guzman taught me how to research and write.
I took additional classes from Drs. Roach, Bowers and Fowler-Salamini. I ended up on the honor roll and became a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society. While lining up at graduation, when the class of 1978 was being lined up, Dr. Fowler-Salamini, who oversaw getting the students ready to process in, saw me and called out, “I want a history major to lead the class!” I was placed at the front of the line. It was a great day.
I went on to graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas with a master’s in theology (Th.M) in Old Testament and Semitic languages. Afterward, I earned a doctorate in ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., and Dr. Guzman came to the graduation party my mother hosted in Peoria. Forty-three years later, Dr. Guzman and I (I still can’t call him Greg) remain in touch.
– Rick Pierson ’78