When you give a person a chance for a college education, you don’t just give him four years of lectures and final exams . . . you give him an opportunity for a whole new life." For Dr. Don M. Morris, this paraphrased quotation by novelist Christopher Morley has served as his life mantra. He received this "opportunity" for a whole new life 61 years ago when the Chaffey High School graduate enrolled at the new Mt. San Antonio College in 1948.
Making the most of this opportunity, young Morris excelled academically and athletically. Under the coaching of legendary Hilmer Lodge, he placed second in the nation in the 400m hurdles in the National A.A.U. Junior Track & Field Championships. That same year, he also placed third nationally in the 120-yard high hurdles and the 220-yard low hurdles at the National Community College Championships. Morris graduated from Mt. SAC in 1950 and earned an athletic scholarship at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he further excelled and became captain of the track team.
After graduating from Cal Poly in 1952, Morris volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy and became a naval aviator of both carrier-based aircraft and airships. Including his four years of active duty, he served for 42 years in the Navy Reserve, retiring in 1990 at the rank of commander.
Despite his strong ties to the military, Morris was passionately linked to education. He earned a master’s degree in education at Cal Poly and a doctorate (Ed.D.) at UCLA. For the rest of his working years, he devoted his career to extending the opportunity of quality education to countless students. He was a public school teacher and principal in San Luis Obispo and Simi Valley, and he served as a founding administrator at Moorpark Colleges and as a professor at UC Santa Barbara. Dr. Morris worked at Cal Poly for 15 years as personnel director, housing director, dean of extended education, and professor.
Dr. Morris has also seized opportunities to serve his community through elective office—as president of the Simi Valley Parks & Recreation Board of Directors and the local chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, and also as a member of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Education.
Even at age 79, Dr. Morris is still quite active—physically! The perpetual athlete, he has won over 100 medals over the past 25 years of Senior Olympics competition, and he is currently the senior world champion in basketball free-throw and 3-point shooting. Morris and his wife, Jean, have traveled together all over the world. Today he presides over the 1,400-member Cal Poly Retired Faculty and Staff Club, and he serves on the Cal Poly Alumni Association Board of Directors
Dr. Morris’ public accolades could fill a tome. Among the most treasured honors are his induction into the Cal Poly Athletic Hall of Fame (2000) and his selection as "Alumnus of the Year" by Cal Poly (2001) and by Chaffey High School (2008). In addition, he received the Patrick Henry Medallion for his work with local veterans and for other patriotic efforts. Morris can now add yet another alumnus recognition by his original alma mater of opportunity, Mt. SAC. Regarding that honor, he states:
"Mt. SAC has given me a chance to succeed in life, and I’m forever grateful to coach Hilmer Lodge and all the wonderful faculty and staff who helped me along the way. No one thought 61 years ago that in 2009, Mt. SAC would become the nation’s greatest community college. I am proud to be part of the Mt. SAC Family."
In the spirit of this year’s commencement theme, "Achievement & Opportunity," Mt. SAC proudly bestows its 2009 Alumnus of the Year Award upon Dr. Don M. Morris.