True Grit by Nancy Mugele


I know all of us on the Eastern Shore know that the Chesapeake Bay retriever is the state dog of Maryland, but did you know that it has been the mascot of the University of Maryland Baltimore County since its founding in 1966. A bronze statue of a retriever, fondly named True Grit, stands proudly on campus and students regularly rub its nose for good luck. True Grit is an apt description of UMBC’s inspiring President – Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski – whom I have the pleasure of knowing. President Hrabowski, who has led UMBC since 1992, served as a Trustee of my former school and gave the Commencement Address at the last Roland Park Country School ceremony that I attended as an employee. He spoke in honor of retiring Head of School Emerita Jean Waller Brune. I have heard him speak several times over the years and it is the true definition of motivational.

I remember as he addressed the RPCS graduates that June morning in 2016, that grit and the value of resilience were the themes of his message. He shared that it was his parents who were “really preparing me for a world that wouldn’t immediately assume that I’d be the best thinker. How do you develop the toughness of skin, but also a strong sense of self? It’s this balance between confidence and humility.” I sat in awe of Freeman that day and when he was recently recognized by Time as one of the country’s Top Ten College Presidents I believed it was deserving. What he has done to guide underrepresented students toward the study of math, science, and engineering is exceptional. And his balance of grace, confidence, and humility is extraordinary.

I am thrilled for the UMBC Retrievers who made history last weekend when they upset UVA becoming the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed during the NCAA Tournament. The team certainly played with true grit reminiscent of their school’s leader. Yet, this accomplishment in college basketball history comes with an asterisk. *The Retrievers are the first men’s team to do it. In 1998, Harvard’s women’s basketball team became the first team to accomplish this amazing feat when it beat Stanford. I am not trying to take anything away from UMBC – just pointing out a fun fact for accuracy and sports trivia enthusiasts.

My family, friends, and colleagues know how much I like Twitter. That is another story, but last weekend I enjoyed following UMBC. After a message from Harvard welcoming UMBC to the “16 over 1 club,” UMBC athletics tweeted the following: “You will always be the first and we are honored to be mentioned in the same category as that upset.  Classy. How could the athletic department be anything but, with President Hrabowski at the helm.”

In a New York Times interview in 2017, Freeman Hrabowski said: “Nothing takes the place of hard work.  It’s about finding ways of using your brainpower to work as effectively as possible to reach your goals and never give up and continue to work at it.  And the world is not necessarily fair.  Get over it.  Just keep being your best.”

I think his men’s basketball team heeded his message. Hard work, true grit and believing in each other paid off. Congratulations to the UMBC Retrievers from the Kent School Ospreys! Despite your loss in Round Two of the NCAA Tournament – you touched our hearts and your accomplishment will forever be remembered.

Several members of my family are following March Madness results a little too closely for my liking. Don’t tell anyone, but I am sure there is a pot of gold at the end for someone. Sadly, I believe my family members’ brackets are all completely busted.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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