By Dustin Byerly
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Mike Hardee about his Goddard experience. Mike, after 38 years in law enforcement, came to Goddard to study film, but his focus shifted during his first residency. Read below to find out about his amazing transformation through his Goddard education.
DB: Can you tell me a bit about your background?
MH: I am a fifth generation Floridian, the youngest of five sons. I grew up in Green Cove Springs, Florida. I was born on October 20th, 1954. I attended public schools and graduated from Clay High School in 1973. That same year, I got married, and with a baby on the way, I moved to Gainesville, Florida to find work. Within a few months I became one of the youngest police officers ever hired in the state of Florida at the age of 19.
My goal was to become a State Wildlife Officer and so when I turned 21, I applied and was hired by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission. In 1980, I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and in 1985 I was transferred to the 400,000-acre Ocala National Forest as area supervisor. In 1989, I became the Environmental Crimes Supervisor for the entire Northeast Florida Region.
For nineteen years I patrolled the woods and waterways of North and Central Florida until 1994, when I was offered a job with the 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville as an environmental crimes investigator. At the age of 49, after almost 10 years with the State Attorney’s Office, I retired with 30 years of law enforcement service.
For the next year, I owned a private investigative agency and a television production company and worked with my wife, Robbie, in network television. In 2004, I was asked to return to law enforcement with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office as Captain, Chief of Detectives. I served in this position for four years and was transferred to Chief of the Patrol Division where I served for the next two years.
In 2008, I was selected to attend the FBI National Academy at Quantico Virginia, and in 2010 I was promoted to Major, Administration Bureau Commander where I currently serve.
DB: How did you find Goddard College?
MH: It was through my wife, Robbie, that I discovered Goddard College in 2003. She was familiar with Goddard College having graduated from the University of Massachusetts and knew several people who had attended Goddard in the 70s.
DB: What was your first experience at Goddard like?
MH: My first semester at Goddard was nothing less than “shock and awe.” Never had I seen such a place where people from all walks of life coexisted without a sense of direction, structure or purpose in life. It reminded me of the communes I had read about where hippies go reconnect with the natural world under a mystical belief that they have no responsibilities or obligations. You have to remember this was unlike any school, college or training facility I had every experienced in all my years of post high school training as a cop. Convinced I had arrived at a cult recruiting camp for the disenfranchised, I only spent one night in a dorm room. Afterwards, I found a safe and secure motel with a high altitude vantage point a few miles away where I could see approaching threats in all directions.
There was a mystery about this new place I found in the mountains, and I became more curious with each passing day of that first residency. “Who are these advisors, where do they come from, what is their background and how will this system of learning work for me?” Each group session, or workshop student presentation I attended, pushed me to know more about the learning process and the people.
Over time, I became influenced by the intimate passion of the other students who were pursuing their dreams of higher education in a non-traditional way. Unlike any place I had ever been, and as awkward as it was for a southern cop to co-mingle with so many cultural diversities, I was drawn to explore and experience the challenge of different thinking. I was hooked and I knew it from that very first semester.
There is a mystery about Goddard, almost magical and seductive, a place you can free your mind to explore and imagine things without boundaries. The residency experiences were a vacation for me, a world away from my daily grind of public service.
DB: What did you study while you were at Goddard?
MH: Originally I wanted to study filmmaking as a retirement option, and so it was decided that I would work with a wonderful advisor, Ellie Epp. She gave me some “magic potion” that allowed me to survive the out-of-body experience I was having the first few days of my first residency. To my own surprise, I returned the next semester, and the next, and then the next, until I finally graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in March of 2012 at the age of 57.
Carefully crafted in a series of one-on-one discussions, my advisors encouraged me to redirect my energy to study and become a writer. Intrigued by the idea, I followed their recommendation to rediscover my past and began the process of writing a memoir. My senior study, entitled, “You Heard What I Said Boy,” is about my exploits as a young Florida Wildlife Officer.
To tell these stories after so many years have passed, and in a way that is considered a piece of scholarly work, is most definitely one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
DB: And what became of your film studies and equipment?
MH: Well, as a previous owner of a television production company for several years, I had accumulated a significant amount of high-quality television production equipment. Now that I am retired from the business, and my studies focused on writing rather than filming, I decided to donate it all to Goddard College.
All this equipment has remained in our production office not being used for some time, and it made good sense for me to donate it in the hope that it would become a catalyst or foundation for future filmmakers who study at Goddard.
DB: Looking back, what does your Goddard education mean to you?
MH: I am forever grateful for the opportunity to attend Goddard College. To be the first in my immediate family to graduate from college was a wonderful blessing and a humbling adventure. Never have I felt such a powerful connection to an institution or a people than I do with Goddard College. What this experience has done for me is difficult to put into words.
At 57 years-old, I have covered a lot of ground. Thirty-eight years in law enforcement, a business owner, private investigator, FBI National Academy graduate, a father of four and a grandfather of five – I do consider myself lucky and blessed in many ways.
Goddard is so much a part of my life now and I want to stay involved with the college in any way possible. One way I think I can contribute is to reach out to others who struggle with making the leap into the unknown of a college experience. I suppose you could say I am a self-proclaimed ambassador, spreading the word around the country that Goddard is a safe haven, where students and faculty interact unconditionally.