Chad Morgan showed up on campus in 1992 as a first-year student with his belongings and an impression of Davidson shaped by a brief campus visit.
"I remember the visit well. I grew up pretty sheltered, and it was the first time I heard [the band] Phish," he said. "But I really appreciated the family, community feel on campus, and that the classes I sat in on were taught by full professors, not graduate assistants a few years older than I was."
The first-generation college student unpacked his things, said goodbye to his parents and quickly realized he was no longer in the homogenous environment he grew up in, but rather in "a melting pot of differences."
Now, having learned to embrace and appreciate how those differences enrich life, he is making the Davidson experience possible for others through scholarship support.
In his hometown near Orlando, Florida, Morgan attended a small Christian evangelical high school. His conservative, lower-middle-class upbringing didn't prepare him for the academic rigor or the diversity he would encounter in college.
"At Davidson, I was thrown onto a hall with well-read, wealthy boarding school kids, geniuses, athletes, students of different ethnicities who came from all over the country," he said. "Not being in a ‘safe space' was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It's not as if you wake up one day and are a changed person overnight. It's chipped away–a conversation here, a confrontation there, a hard class. It's difficult and uncomfortable at times. It takes effort, and a sincere heart, I think. I'm so thankful for that."
The student who came to campus in 1992 no longer exists, thanks in part to those experiences and to the Bonner Program.
"It would've been easy to keep my head down and just work hard for four years," he said. "But the Bonner Program forced me not to do that."
The Bonner Scholars Program is a four-year merit and need-based scholarship that supports students working to bring about positive community change through service. Bonner Scholars complete 280 hours of service annually, and they come together for regular meetings and skill development, covering topics like time management, conflict resolution, poverty reduction and education reform.
"It ripped me out of my routine and shelter for at least 10 hours a week and made me aware of the hurting that surrounds us–even in bubbles like Davidson and [my current home] Charlottesville," he said. "Work is always busy. Family is always busy. There's no shortgage of valid excuses for not taking time to try to help, today. I learned that I have this duty through the Bonner Program, and it has stayed with me."
Morgan says he floundered his first couple years, but the close attention of his professors, particularly Alexander McKelway and Robin Barnes, helped him to thrive. He fondly remembers the first term paper assigned by Barnes.
"I got the paper back just loaded with red ink, and I remember thinking this is the editor for the leading scholarly journal on the Reformation," said Morgan. "This guy took a lot of time to edit a 19-year-old kid's paper personally, in great detail, and I kind of couldn't believe it–I wasn't angry, I was grateful. I wanted him to be my adviser. That's Davidson. More than anybody, Robin taught me that good work comes from hard work, and that I was capable of it. There's no other proxy for the simple labor and rigor it takes to do something well."
Morgan went on to earn an MBA from Duke University and is a partner with Charlottesville, Virginia-based investment firm Investure, LLC–a trajectory made possible, he believes in part, because Davidson took a chance on a sheltered, naive kid from Orlando.
"It was obvious that when Davidson decided to accept me, they also chose to make a real effort for me to afford it," he said. "I'll be forever in Davidson's debt for that."