A standing ovation erupted from College of Idaho students, staff and faculty as the well-known, mustachioed face of Campus Safety walked across the commencement stage. Laird’s 88-year-old mother looked on, finally realizing the dream of seeing her son earn a college degree.
“It was the accumulation of a whole lot of years of hard work,” Laird said. “It meant a lot to me because my mom and dad always told me to go to college. I’m glad that I walked when I did, so that my mom could watch it.”
After 17 long years, the director of Campus Safety walked with the Class of 2016. Laird had just a few credits to finish up, and after taking a leadership independent-study class with Dr. Scott Johnson this winter, Laird put together the final paper and presentation of his undergraduate career.
His reaction upon completing the class? The same as any other college student.
“I’m finished,” Laird said. “I’m done. It was a relief.”
It all started back in 2000, when Laird was hired as the head of Campus Safety. He previously worked for the Weiser and Caldwell Police Departments, and had worked part-time managing C of I security from 1989-2000.
What Laird didn’t know was working at the College came with the perk of free tuition. So, one class at a time, he slowly chipped away at his small business management degree.
“Allan’s persistence toward obtaining his college degree served as a wonderful role model and inspiration for our students and for his colleagues,” said Paul Bennion, vice president of student affairs. “I also believe Allan’s presence in the classroom contributed to our ability to build a community policing model, as it helped connect the Campus Safety Department and the College to our students.”
As both head of Campus Safety and a student, Laird has experienced the C of I through a unique lens. He’s stayed up until 3:30 a.m. to finish a paper, then come to work at 7 a.m. He also rubs shoulders with the students he sees on campus every day—which can sometimes make for interesting situations.
“I’ve sat beside students with a five-gallon bucket between their knees while they’re puking at Spring Fling, then sat beside them in class the next day,” Laird said. “That’s kind of an embarrassing situation for them, which I used as a learning opportunity to talk about choices.”
His presence and life experience has also been an asset for his professors in the classroom. Dr. Johnson has drawn upon Laird’s business experience (he owns a cabinetmaking business and has been involved with various nonprofits) to help coach students.
“He sincerely wants to help students succeed, because he’s a student himself and knows what it’s like,” Johnson said. “I think there is some initial ‘what is the cop doing in our class?’ reaction from students, but Allan just jumps right in.”
There are a lot of classes Laird has enjoyed throughout the years, but he learned the biggest life lesson through ceramics. The class taught him to put all his worries aside and take care of what was in front of him.
“Once you get a glob of clay sitting on that wheel, and started making it into something, if you let your mind wander and start worrying about life and work, that glob will fold up and run off the table,” Laird said. “Then you have to start all over again.”
And he’s taken those skills and lessons learned in the classroom and transferred them to Campus Safety, helping the office flow well and be a place everyone wants to work. But most of all, it’s his sincerity and genuine character which has made the biggest impact.
“He’s like the grandpa that I never had—this wise guy that I can go to for advice and just sit there, talk and chat with,” said student-officer Bridget Kernan. “And he’s got some pretty good stories.”
As Laird prepares to proudly hang his diploma over his desk, you’d think he’d be done with schooling. Not so for the man who wants to earn his master’s in education so he can share his passion, expertise and knowledge with other campus safety departments through seminar trainings.
For this ‘stached campus stalwart, the learning never stops.
The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.