Lt. Dan Feirman, MLA '16
By: Hallet Graham

“Spring Hill is more than just a school. It’s a family to me. It’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream I never knew was possible.”

Sitting in the coffee shop across from campus on a balmy Mobile morning, I wait for a recent Spring Hill graduate to join me. His reputation for warmth and charisma precede his arrival; I can’t wait to hear his story. I am not disappointed. 

The minute Lieutenant Dan Feirman sits across the table from me, I know I’m in for a treat. He launches immediately into what brought him here today – a childhood bursting with adventure (he was flying planes by age sixteen), a prolific military career, and a passion for higher education instilled in him by his parents.

As a young adult, Lt. Dan had better things to do than school work. He was racing motorcycles or flying planes, and was satisfied with passing marks in his classes. It wasn’t until later in life, after entering the Navy, that Dan became determined to reach new heights by pursuing a graduate degree. He enrolled in the Navy’s graduate program and took classes for two years. He was proud of his accomplishments – as anyone who’s done it can attest, working full time and working toward a degree is no easy task. With one class standing between Dan and his degree, suddenly everything changed. The Navy pilot found himself stationed on the ground in Afghanistan for one year.

After serving his assignment in Afghanistan, Dan returned ready to get back to work on his degree, but again, life got in the way. The time allowance for his graduate program was limited to two years and - in a streak of bad luck - the only course Dan needed would not be offered again for three more years. Years of hard work seemed to circle the drain, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet.

Dan transferred into the Coast Guard and was sent to Miami. He arranged to finish his degree with the Navy on their base in Jacksonville, about five hours away via car. Dan would do whatever it took – even flying to Jacksonville once a week for class – to complete his degree. It was all planned out and settled with the Navy, when the Coast Guard experienced three major accidents. Dan’s superiors said that all outside educational programs must cease. Once again, his plans to achieve a graduate degree were thwarted, and Dan began to realize his hard work would be all for naught.

A few years later, Dan and his wife were stationed in Mobile, AL– right at the same time that all-star alumni John and Mary Lou Barter stepped in to help transform Spring Hill College’s financial landscape. They lived in adjacent apartments, shared a driveway, and said ‘hello’ each morning at the very same coffee shop where Dan and I now sit talking.

“This is where it all began,” Dan tells me, grinning ear to ear. John Barter in his business suit would ask the young man in the flight suit, “When are you going to start graduate school at Spring Hill College?” But Dan had lost hope in the idea of earning a degree, and he laughed off John’s persistent questions with excuse after excuse.

“He wasn’t pushy,” Dan says. “It was just what I needed in my life at that time.” When the Coast Guard’s education director sent an email describing a great leadership course at Spring Hill College and the financial assistance available, Dan was primed and ready to dive in. A few of his comrades were up for promotion and knew that even attending classes without pursuing a degree would help their officer applications. That class could make all the difference. Dan decided to join the class, and he was hooked.

He decided, once again, to pursue a graduate degree. Dan was drawn to the Masters in Liberal Arts program, and began the application process. The process presented him with more hurdles to jump – standardized tests, letters of recommendation, and more – and Dan did not have time to complete them before beginning the following semester. Throughout this trying period, Dan received constant support from his teacher, Theresa Crider, and from John Barter. “I would not have stuck with it without those two,” he said with sincerest gratitude.

After talking to a few Admissions counselors, it was decided that Dan should be admitted contingent upon his maintaining a 3.0 for the first 12 hours of his degree. Even now, he is so thankful that Spring Hill College took a chance on him and allowed him to pursue his goal. During those first few semesters, Dan faced challenge after challenge. His father was ill, at once spending three months in the hospital. An only child, Dan flew up to Virginia once a week to take care of his parents. He worked 80 hour weeks, and even got married during this time, but always, always remained focused on completing his schoolwork and maintaining his grades. He would never take for granted the opportunity that Spring Hill College had handed him.

Dan’s years at Spring Hill College were not without their obstacles, but he smiles as he talks about each of the professors and administrators who helped make his dream a reality, and he’s proud that he graduated with honors – a hard-earned 3.72 GPA. Dan’s capstone professor invited him to come partake of his other classes the following semester in order to help guide and teach other students, and Dan jumped at the opportunity. He loves being around SHC because he feels like part of something bigger than himself. For the first time in his life, he is proud to have an alma mater – one that he represents wherever he goes with t-shirts, baseball caps, and that “invisible tattoo” that Spring Hill students carry on themselves for the rest of their lives.

Before we leave the cozy coffee shop across the street, Dan tells me, “I worked for all that I have, but I could not have done it without the support system at SHC. I have a future goal of being able to give back whatever I can.”

Dan fully embodies the joy and power of a Spring Hill College education. On this hilltop, students become leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice, and service for life and when they can, they give that opportunity right back to all who come behind them.

 

 

 

 

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