The Catholic high school kid I knew as Billy Law was chosen Tuesday as president of St. Petersburg College, and I could not be more optimistic about the school's future under his leadership.
Outgoing president Carl Kuttler, brilliant entrepreneur and canny salesman, did great things for the college, but people who are president of anything for 30 years have a way of turning into autocrats. And when you get them out of office, they can leave some dirty footprints on the rug.
It is no surprise, then, that some voices at the college express concern that Dr. William D. Law Jr. will become King Carl Reincarnate. After all, didn't Law serve as a vice president under Kuttler from 1981-89?
I can assure the worry warriors of two things: (1) It will not be business as usual under Bill Law's leadership, and (2) he will be much more collaborative than his predecessor in working not just with faculty and students, but with all stakeholders that depend upon the college for their well being.
I'll even make this prediction: Bill Law will turn out to be the Un-Carl.
Kuttler's style has always been pharaonic. A caricature would show him sitting in a chariot, like Ramses II, watching yet another pyramid of learning being erected on yet another branch campus.
Law, I predict, will be more Mosaic. He will concern himself less with bricks and mortar and much more with values, programs and people, discovering new ways of serving every corner of this great community.
How can I be so sure?
Let me take you back in time to Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y. It is 1966, our senior year, and Bill Law and I are blazing parallel trails: sports, student council, National Honor Society, prom committee.
Ah, the prom committee. For $1,500 we hired the Rascals (Good Lovin'), now in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, to play our senior prom.
I believe that a person's character and talents are well formed by the time a student enters high school. I believe that by the time he graduated, Bill Law was destined to become a college president.
I know what Bill Law brought into high school, and I know what he developed there: an earnest character, a sharp mind and a compassionate heart. He learned how to study hard, play hard and imagine a life of service to others.
Too often Kuttler wore his moral code on his sleeve. His conservative cultural view had many benefits, but it also undermined the more unruly academic programs (theater and journalism come to mind). He famously distrusted some of the more rebellious faculty members on campus, teachers who wound up spending a lot of time looking over their shoulders.
Bill Law will act more presidential than his predecessor and less royal; will be more leader than dictator; will embrace things he can't control; will match his academic instincts with his political savvy; will celebrate, rather than just tolerate, difference and eccentricity.
And one final prediction: Bill Law will not preside over St. Petersburg College for 30 years (by which time he would turn 91), a reality that should be healthy for our new president and refreshing for the whole St. Petersburg community.
Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at the Poynter Institute. He graduated in 1966 from Chaminade High School, Mineola, N.Y. His wife and his three daughters graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College.