Gus Hardy ’16: Intentional Valedictorian
Gus Hardy ’16 (Religious Studies and Political Science, with a minor in Catholic Studies) will tell you within minutes of meeting him that he has autism. And, then, he will spend the next 29 minutes of a 30-minute interview engaging you with stories that demonstrate his passion for human connection.
The dichotomy is nothing short of captivating.
“You could say what I feel called to is also what’s inherently different about me. I’m working against my own biology to do what I think matters, and I guess that shows my intentionality,” he explains.
It sure does.
This intentionality is the same thing that brought him to Santa Clara, despite having attended a high school for autistic youth who were not encouraged toward the college track. He saw his teachers’ low expectations of him and was determined to prove them wrong.
“I spent my hour-and-a-half commute to school each day researching the requirements for local universities and soon set my sights on Santa Clara,” Gus says.
To have not only made it to college but be selected as the Valedictorian of such a prestigious university is just another reason he has left an impression on his peers and professors.
Philosophy Professor Shannon Vallor is one such faculty member. “Gus’ passion for thought, not merely as a means to erudition or economic status, but for its power to help us envision and build a more humane and just world, is as intense and unwavering as that of any student I’ve known at Santa Clara. In personal character, intellect and spirit, Gus embodies the very habits of mind and heart that Jesuit higher education, and SCU in particular, aims to cultivate,” she says.
Peter Minowitz, Professor of Political Science, concurs: “I’ve been teaching here for 31 years, and it’s been worth the wait. Gus’ interests are sprawling, his memory is stellar, his wit is daring, and his enthusiasm is unrivaled. He’s also a captivating orator.”
Gus’ impact is also felt in the Religious Studies department. “Gus cares deeply about what he studies, and he’s never afraid to demonstrate this intellectual enthusiasm. In our classroom discussions of complex theological texts, he frequently took the lead in volunteering thoughtful answers to challenging questions, thereby setting an example for his peers. It was truly a pleasure to work with him,” says his professor David Pinault.
Part of what makes Gus an example for his peers is his humility. It might be easy for someone selected to represent his graduating class to feel ready for, if not entitled to, a high-profile job offer. But Gus is quick to say, “Before I go on to graduate school to become a professor of theology or political philosophy and start critiquing the world, I should get out there and live in it first.”
To that end, he has accepted a job with a homeless shelter in Missoula, Montana, where he will spend one year learning as much as he teaches. “These are my formative years. I have so much to learn before I go trying to make a splash sometime down the line. I picked Missoula because it is rural and relatively homogenous, so I want to live there and see how things are done in a community so different from the one where I grew up in Berkeley,” he explains.
Gus’ interest in immersing himself in new cultures points back to his travels to the Philippines where he spent time living in Quezon City. He lived among 104 families in an area the size of half of a city block. When asked what he learned there, he says: “It seems like a lot of Americans go to developing countries and feel like they are saving people. I do not like to assume I am the one who knows everything. The people there were opening up their lives to me, so I wanted to give my all and connect with them.”
Making those connections is one thing Gus will miss the most as he leaves Santa Clara. His involvement here in not just his classes but the clubs and organizations he joined made him realize that his preconceived notion of a “Jesuit education as a hood ornament” could not be further from his reality.
“By being challenged by my professors and peers and getting involved on campus, I now know who I am, what I believe, and what I am meant to do in the world,” he says.
His time at Santa Clara has also reinforced his beliefs that life isn’t anything like Atlas Shrugged or the Silicon Valley dream of a solo-preneur. “It’s about putting together a team of people who appreciate and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses to work together for the common good,” he shares.
And Gus always finds the common good—whether it is here on campus, in Quezon City, or in his upcoming adventure in Missoula, his intentionality and humility will serve him well.