Mark J. Riedy, PhD
I was prepared to be the last to leave the office tonight, treating my departure for the symbolic moment it would be. What I had not counted upon is that as part of the exit process I had to turn in my employee ID card, which also serves as the key to the office door. Guess I’ll be leaving early, instead.
In truth, coming to the USD campus every day has been a capstone of my career and a constant source of satisfaction. Like any job, there have been highs and lows―many more of the former than the latter, thankfully―and neither the highs nor the lows have come close to the amplitude of the real estate cycles our program has weathered since its founding in 1993.
The lowest point I had was in September 2000, when the most engaging and inspirational student I’d met up to that time—U.S. Navy veteran Dan Woodruff—lost his courageous two year battle with cancer. We had become close during my hospital visits while he was getting chemotherapy and during the brief “recovery” periods when I was invited to spend time with Dan and his family and friends. His passing still was tragic even though he and we all knew it was coming.
Shortly before Dan’s death I met with him privately and told him that we were going to raise funds to endow Daniel B. Woodruff Memorial Scholarships. Winners would not be allowed to apply for the scholarships, which is the traditional process. Instead, recipients would be selected by our faculty and staff based partly upon academic excellence but even more importantly upon a “special story,” exceptional ability or character traits they possessed reminiscent of Dan himself. Those few minutes with Dan, explaining what I had committed to do as a permanent tribute to his life, were the singularly most emotional moments of my entire career at USD.
By the same token, I experienced some of my highest “highs” each time I brought an unsuspecting student into my office and, much to their surprise, informed them of their selection as a Woodruff Scholarship recipient. Students often came in with worried expressions on their faces, especially because we were meeting near the end of a semester, fearing they’d done something wrong. One said afterward he felt like he’d been summoned to the principal’s office. I did not keep them hanging long. These were magical moments for them as well as for me. All 21 Woodruff Scholarship winners have become friends since graduating from USD.
In contrast to a “high,” which tends to be a fleeting event, over 22 years at USD I also have enjoyed what best are described as personal sources of satisfaction because I enjoyed them over extended periods of time. For example, I have experienced great satisfaction from:
- Moving to San Diego in 1992. Having our daughter and son, their spouses, and our two grandsons within a 30 minute drive
- Working alongside an exceptional faculty and staff in the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, formally recognized as a Center of Excellence by the University of San Diego, a highly ranked university where personalized education is paramount
- Having an outstanding Master of Science in Real Estate degree program whose student teams are five-time U.S. national champions in the international ARGUS Software University Challenge
- Enjoying extraordinary industry friendships and support for USD’s real estate students, whose registrations for real estate courses since 1993 have exceeded 10,000 and whose job opportunities upon graduation are excellent
- Passing the torch to Stath Karras, whom I deeply respect and admire, and whose leadership capabilities give me great comfort that my legacy will be protected and enhanced.
For several years I have been musing about retirement. It began to sink in that I had been at USD a long time when anywhere I went in San Diego former students would catch my eye to say hello or thanks. It was one of many tangible benefits of my job. Simultaneously, when I greeted a new class each September I became increasingly aware that the age gap between the students and me was widening. Names on class rosters changed each year but students’ ages did not. Year after year I was teaching 20-21 year old students. But when each new September rolled around I was 12 months older. I knew I could continue to bridge the age gap, teaching-wise. However, as I moved farther along the age continuum my distance from that other, less attractive end kept narrowing. Once I agreed not to expect her to fix lunch at home during the week my wife, Erin, quickly climbed aboard the retirement train. What’s next? More time with our grandsons, golf with my son and the older of my grandsons, travel and walks on the beach with Erin and (still more) golf with friends. Possibly a board or two, speech-writing assistance, management consulting projects and/or launching the encore career I have been exploring.
The last box I plan to carry out of the (unlocked) door today contains an accumulation of 22 years of typed and hand-written notes, cards and letters from students, alumni, industry supporters and USD colleagues. From day one on campus I began stuffing them into a desk drawer (now two drawers), saving them for the days that follow my retirement. I refer to them as my “feel good” messages. Every now and then, whether I’m in need of a “pick me up” or merely want to relish what made my capstone career so meaningful, I’ll read a few. And I will savor each one.
At the top of that pile will be the framed photograph of Dan Woodruff (2/21/73 - 9/8/00), which I had displayed as an inspiration to me and to students called into my office to be informed they were Woodruff Scholarship winners. I knew that there was a hand-written note from Dan to me attached to the back of the frame but had forgotten its exact words. It was dated 8/15/00, not quite a month before Dan died. His last line was, “Thank you for helping me leave a legacy at USD!”
My words exactly. Last one out, please turn off the lights and lock the door.
Mark J. Riedy, PhD